Ed Balls seeks to restore Labour's economic credibility


Ed Balls shadow chancellor: "In tough economic times we have to make difficult choices about priorities"

On Budget Day in just two years' time the man holding the red box outside No 11 may be Labour's Ed Balls. That will only happen if he can restore Labour's economic credibility.

Today the shadow chancellor came to the City to deliver a speech designed to do just that. His message was the same as ever and yet different.

As always he claimed that the government's austerity economics was failing and forcing ministers to search for another £11bn in cuts they never planned to make.

However, he also acknowledged that Labour would have no choice but to go along with many of those cuts and would treat them as "a starting point" for their policies in government.

In other words he was telling his party, as well as the country, that for all his talk of growth and jobs the next Labour government will find itself having to cut day-to-day spending more and tax more too - albeit according to different priorities.

Those hoping he would spell out Labour's spending plans for 2015 - the first year they might be in office - and set out his so-called fiscal rules - ie how fast he aims to reduce the deficit and Britain's debt - were disappointed. He insists that with the economy so uncertain now is not the time.

However, there was one firm commitment - Labour says that the 600,000 pensioners who earn enough to pay higher or top rate tax should no longer get the annual winter fuel allowance.

This is more symbolically significant than it is economically. After all, the party has always stressed its commitment to universalism - the idea that all get the same benefit regardless of their incomes - as a way of binding society together. Besides, as I pointed out to the shadow chancellor, it saves just £100m, which is not much more than one thousandth of the projected annual deficit in 2015.

A sign of how big a step the party regards this is the fact that Mr Balls insisted that Labour would keep the free pensioners bus pass and free prescriptions. The party remembers all too well how Gordon Brown used the threat to benefits to the elderly as a stick to beat David Cameron with at the last election.

Labour opposed the coalition's cut to child benefit for those on higher and top rate tax and still insists it was unfair. It is projected to raise 23 times more than means testing winter fuel payments. So, either Balls will have to be clear that it is a cut he can't restore, or he will have to come up with a new more affordable lower level of child benefit which all can receive.

In truth, economic credibility depends less on published plans and more on public trust. That is why Ed Balls won't stop reminding voters that the coalition's economic plans are way off course and leading to cuts they never dreamt of making.

However, he - unlike most opposition spokesman - also has a personal record to defend. For years he was Gordon Brown's chief economic adviser - in reality if not always in name. Today he insisted that Labour had not been profligate in those years.

His Tory opponents beg to differ of course and having long memories or, perhaps just access to Google, discovered that 17 years ago another shadow chancellor promised the same "iron discipline". Yes, that was Mr Brown.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    One word. "Fail"

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    And what a poor, petty and misdirected start. After fuel allowance cuts will come bus passes, NHS access and pensions. Rich or poor certain things need to be rights that we can all rely on wherever we are in the UK and not become political tools. Remember millions of Labour voters live in Tory seats that were deprived of investment too by Labour simply because they were Tory seats. Spiteful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I think George Osborne needs to restore the public's faith in his "abilities".

    Although on second thought, perhaps he should have stuck to folding towels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Tory and Labour all failed
    This is why we are in a mess.

    That depends on whose viewpoint you take.

    From the viewpoint of the average working Joe, yes they both failed us.

    However if you take the viewpoint of the multinationals they've been a resounding success all round - cheap and desperate workers for them and no tax to pay whilst UK small business is hammered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Balls so called 'policies' MAY have marginally more credibility than he has.Possibly not. My opinion of him is un-printable and has lots of *****s among the vowels and consonants.

    Please BBC, let me say what I really think, or do i need parliamentary privilege.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Is this a conservative party forum? Ed Balls speech sounded logical, how long do we continue our current austerity measures?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Labour to win on a ticket of 'economic competence'?

    I think not.

    Labour need to stick to their existing policy ... keep their mouths shut and let the tory economic disaster without end hand them a win in 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Under every Chancellor in my lifetime things have got worse not better then I suspect that it is the UK's economic credibility that needs to be restored.
    Labour always to spend too much during booms (except possibly Jenkins)
    The Tories always cut too much during the Busts
    Barber, Healey, Howe, Lawson, Lamont, Brown, Osbourne
    Tory and Labour all failed
    This is why we are in a mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Oh come on! No one is buying "restoring Labours economic credibility". What a load of party politics bull**. Until a party does something about the daily fraud commited by the banks and City Of London which is bankcrupting this country using a glorified ponzi scheme then there shall be no restoration of economic creditibility. Nick Robinson needs to stop being a mouth piece for these "people".

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Nick, you should acknowledge that even among Labour supporters, Ed Balls is seen as a liability. He is the last person Labour should put on the stand if they are trying to gain some economic credibility. He and Miliband are both associated with Gordon Brown's failures and the country, even if they do not think highly of the Coalition, will never trust Labour to handle the UK finances safely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    There may be credibility to restore among the majority of replies to the BBC today but I think under any objective critique he has enormous credibility. After all he has been consistently correct on the economy since this govt took office.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    "Ed Balls seeks to restore Labour's economic credibility"

    Restore? Labour never had any economic credibility. Wilson, Callaghan, Blair/Brown. Every single Labour government has left a horrendous financial mess behind it. And that is no accident. Labour exists purely to overspend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The ONLY plus point to Balls being Chancellor is with each mistake you can say "Hes Ballsed it up again" although after the 1st year you might get tied of that

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Jose Mourinho has more economic credibility that Ed Ball (it up again!) And at least Jose isn't borrowing to spend as Abromovich has it in the bank.

    All Balls (it up again!) has done is a political gesture - the implementation of the IT to make it work is more than the savings - and we "know" how good Govt and IT are together!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    ""Ed Balls seeks to restore Labour's economic credibility""
    ....and spectacularly fails.No surprise there then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    They should get Rogers in, a credible spokesman and a man of the people.


  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    "On Budget Day in just two years' time the man holding the red box outside No 11 may be Labour's Ed Balls."



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