In his first major speech as Labour leader, Miliband warned trade unions that “irresponsible” industrial action would alienate the public.
He said: “I have no truck, and you should have no truck, with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes. The public won’t support them. I won’t support them. And you shouldn’t support them either.”
Union leaders in the conference hall looked distinctly unimpressed at the remarks, although they later tried to shake them off.
Miliband, who won the Labour leadership by mopping up union support, used his speech to appeal to the centre ground.
“Red Ed? Come off it. Let’s start to have a grown up debate in this country about… what kind of country we want to leave for our kids,” he said.
His measured approach earned a cautious thumbs-up from employers’ organisation the CBI. “He stressed that Labour must win back fiscal credibility… and that it must build prosperity, as well as distribute it,” said director general Richard Lambert.
But others were quick to dismiss Miliband as anti-business, after he attacked “big business” and criticised high levels of remuneration. The new Labour leader also backed a higher bank levy, a living wage of at least £7 and new regulations for those employing agency workers.
Miliband said: “What does it say about the values of our society, what have we become, that a banker can earn in a day what a care worker can earn in a year?
“I say: responsibility in this country shouldn’t just be about what you can get away with. And that applies to every chief executive of every major company in this country.”
Graeme Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said he detected a “drift away from New Labour’s efforts to talk up a pro-enterprise agenda”.
And the Tories attacked Miliband’s failure to set out a clear plan for reducing Britain’s yawning £158bn budget deficit.
Conservative party chairman Baroness Warsi said: “Ed Miliband promised to tell us how he’d tackle the deficit. Instead, he spent today listing all the cuts he’d oppose but didn’t give us one he’d support. It’s now clear that he’s a man without a plan.”
Ed Miliband’s speech is likely to be overshadowed if elder brother David stands down from frontline politics, as expected, later today.
David Miliband, who narrowly missed out in the race to be Labour leader, appeared furious at his younger sibling’s insistence that the Iraq war was wrong. He was seen turning to Harriet Harman, deputy leader, who was applauding the Iraq comments, and saying “you voted for it – why are you clapping?”