UK Politics

Ed Balls slams 'daily soap opera' of Miliband brothers

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Media captionEd Balls on the Milibands and the Labour leadership

Labour leadership candidate Ed Balls has criticised the "daily episodes" of the "soap opera" surrounding fellow contenders Ed and David Miliband.

Focusing on the brothers' rivalry "did not do justice to the issues" facing the party and the country, he added.

Labour heavyweights Lord Kinnock and Lord Mandelson have also clashed following Ed Miliband's criticisms of the New Labour project.

Voting in the leadership contest gets under way on Wednesday.

Fellow candidate Andy Burnham has insisted he can win and that there is not a "two-horse race" between the Milibands.

'Personalities'

Ahead of a campaign event in London, Mr Balls said the debates about Old and New Labour were detracting from the issues at stake.

He told the BBC: "We've had a daily soap opera of one Miliband brother or the other, with their supporters or non-supporters, commenting here and there.

"It is a bit like in the election campaign where it was all about personalities. I think what the public want to know, what Labour members and voters want to know, is do we have plans to deal with the big issues of our time?"

He called for Labour to focus more on the issue of housebuilding.

Mr Balls, the shadow education secretary, said the government should use a £12bn "windfall" - available because public borrowing for 2009-10 came in at £155bn, lower than the earlier forecast of £167bn - to create more homes.

He admitted Labour's pre-election plans to build 176,000 social homes over four years were "too cautious", saying: "The truth is that whilst we made progress, Labour leaders over several decades never paid enough sustained attention to housing to make it the priority it deserved. That must change.

"We now need a strong housing policy to support our economy, to provide the homes Britain badly needs and to reconnect with the voters we lost, both young families who want a home of their own and those queuing patiently for social housing."

Former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, who is backing Ed Miliband in the contest, said in his letter to the Times newspaper that Lord Mandelson was "indulging in the sort of personalised factionalism that has inflicted such damage on our party in ancient and modern history".

Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary, has said Labour could be left in an "electoral cul-de-sac" if its next leader tried to create a "pre-New Labour party" - seen as a criticism of Ed Miliband.

He was reacting after the leadership hopeful suggested New Labour had feared increasing taxes for high earners, had displayed an aversion to Old Labour's anti-Americanism and had suffered from an unnecessary desire to protect the public from the views of Labour members.

Speaking to the Times, Lord Mandelson addressed Mr Miliband's criticisms of New Labour.

He said: "I think that if he or anyone else wants to create a pre-New Labour future for the party then he and the rest of them will quickly find that that is an electoral cul-de-sac."

The peer also accused Lord Hattersley and Lord Kinnock of wanting to "hark back to a previous age".

Mr Burnham, the shadow health secretary, told the BBC he was "in a strong third position and gaining ground" on his rivals.

He also accused senior party figures of "self-indulgent factionalism", arguing that he was not New Labour or Old Labour but "true Labour".

Voting in the contest, in which backbench MP Diane Abbott is also a candidate, will continue until 22 September. The winner will be announced on the first day of the party's conference in Manchester on 25 September.

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