Britain’s main opposition Labour Party was on Monday debating how to win next year’s general election at its annual conference as it struggles to avoid divisions after Scotland’s independence referendum.
The economy was centre-stage as finance spokesman Ed Balls delivered a keynote speech, warning delegates of complacency ahead of the May polls.
“Yes, the Tories are deeply unpopular. And yes, the country is crying out for change,” he said.
“But even after the progress and successes of our last four years, we have more work to do to show Labour can deliver the change that people want to see.”
Opinion polls put centre-left Labour a few points ahead of Prime Minister David Cameron’s centre-right Tories, though party leader Ed Miliband is unpopular with voters.
Labour hopes that its economic policies, which stress help for people on low and middle incomes, can help it back into power as many Britons have yet to feel the effects of the country’s recovery from recession.
Under prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Labour governed Britain between 1997 and 2010.
Balls apologised for Labour’s failure to regulate banks strongly enough before the 2008 financial crisis and vowed to reintroduce a 50 percent top rate of income tax for people earning more than £150,000 (190,000 euros, $245,000).
Labour also pledged to increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2020 on the first official day of the conference Sunday. It currently stands at £6.31 and is due to rise to £6.50 next month.
The conference in Manchester, northwest England started three days after Scotland voted against independence in a tight and sometimes bitterly-fought referendum.
Britain’s three biggest parties — the Tories, their Liberal Democrat coalition partners and Labour — outlined plans during campaigning to hand more powers to the Scottish Parliament in a bid to head off a possible “Yes” vote.
But Miliband now faces a tough job to keep his party united amid jostling over how this should work in practice.
The Labour leader has rejected a call from Cameron for the Scottish reforms to come alongside a ban on Scottish lawmakers in the British parliament voting on matters that now only affect England thanks to devolution.
Instead, he wants a “constitutional convention” after the elections to decide what should happen.
Forty of Scotland’s 59 lawmakers in the British parliament are Labour, and they are opposed to seeing their powers curtailed.
If it wins next year’s general elections, Labour could struggle to govern without their support, and its ability to win future polls would be blunted if they were removed under any future constitutional reforms.
The conference officially started on Sunday but the main speeches got under way on Monday. The event wraps up on Wednesday.