Ed Balls pledges to 'balance the books' by 2020

 
Ed Balls and George Osborne Both the Conservatives and Labour are aspiring to balance the books

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Labour will balance the UK's books and deliver a budget surplus in the next Parliament if it wins the 2015 election, Ed Balls has said.

The shadow chancellor said Labour would pass a law to ensure it adheres to "tough" and binding fiscal rules.

This would mean eliminating the deficit - so the government generates more cash than it spends - and cutting debt as a share of GDP between 2015 and 2020.

George Osborne says the Tories want an absolute budget surplus by 2020.

The last time the government ran an absolute budget surplus - which means generating more in revenues, including tax yields, than the entire expenditure - was in 2001.

Labour's ambition to deliver a budget surplus does not include borrowing additional money for long-term investments, such as a high speed rail link.

The Labour party is under pressure to assert its economic credibility in the face of claims from its rivals that it would increase spending and borrowing.

In a speech to the Fabian Society on Saturday, Mr Balls said a future Labour government would legislate within the first year to introduce new rules on the deficit and debt levels while progress would be independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

But he would not set a specific date for achieving a surplus, saying it would depend on the state of the public finances and changing economic circumstances.

"The next Labour government will balance the books and deliver a surplus on the current budget and falling national debt in the next Parliament," he said.

"We will get the current budget into surplus as soon as possible in the next Parliament. How fast we can go will depend on the state of the economy and public finances we inherit."

Spending freeze

A Conservative spokesman said: "Labour spent too much in the good years, left behind the biggest deficit in the developed world, and even deny leaving our economy in a mess in the first place - and now Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are saying we aren't clearing up their mess fast enough.

"As part of our long-term economic plan, we're taking difficult decisions to reduce the deficit to secure a better future for Britain.

"Already it is down by a third, keeping mortgage rates low - bringing more financial security and peace of mind for people who work hard."

In his recent Autumn Statement Mr Osborne said he expected the UK to be running a budget surplus by financial year 2018-19.

Economists have said this could lead to further substantial cuts to public spending - although Prime Minister David Cameron said spending could instead be frozen.

He has said if the economy grows it could even be possible to spend more on some departments and run a surplus.

Labour has already pledged to stick to the government's spending plans for the first year after the general election.

"No more borrowing for current spending under Labour," Mr Balls said in December. "There'll be spending cuts, there'll be tough decisions."

 

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  55.  
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  57.  
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  58.  
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  60.  
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  61.  
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    Health minister Jane Ellison

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  62.  
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  63.  
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  64.  
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  65.  
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    16:00: Defending PMQs LBC
    Grant Shapps

    Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps has been defending Prime Minister's Questions during a phone-in on LBC radio. Host Shelagh Fogarty said the exchanges on the NHS were the worst she could remember. "I'm not going to pretend it's the pinnacle of political debate," Mr Shapps replied. But he pointed to the viewing figures it attracts and added that he had a five-year waiting list of constituents wanting to come and watch. "It keeps the prime minister on his or her toes," he added.

     
  67.  
    15:52: What is a major incident?
    ambulance

    David Cameron and Ed Miliband have clashed in the Commons over the NHS, amid a row about guidance to hospitals over when they can call a "major incident". So what exactly is a major incident?

    • An internal major incident is activated when a trust is under significant pressure that is internal to the organisation - and is not the result of an external event.
    • It is a business continuity arrangement, where a decision is taken to reduce some services to support higher priority ones.
    • A major incident is a significant incident or emergency that cannot be managed within routine service arrangements.
    • It requires the implementation of special procedures and involves one or more of the emergency services, the NHS or a local authority.

    Source: NHS England - London region

     
  68.  
    15:42: 'Weaponising' policy
    George Osborne

    Amid continuing Conservative criticism of Ed Miliband for his suggestion he would "weaponise" the NHS, Paul Waugh at PoliticsHome reports that Chancellor George Osborne apparently previously used the word "weaponise" in a political context.

     
  69.  
    15:36: The SNP halts fracking

    Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing announces a moratorium on planning consent for all fracking north of the border. He's targeting the Tories rather than Labour, calling the Conservatives' plan to remove landowners' right to object to shale gas extraction "a disgrace". By contrast, he says, the Scottish government is taking a "responsible, cautious and evidence-based approach".

    Fracking in Balcombe, southern England
     
  70.  
    @ChrisMasonBBC Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Scotland's First Minister says she'd find it "strange" if Labour refused to deal with the SNP following the election, rpts @TimReidBBC

    and

    tweets: It follows the shadow Chancellor Ed Balls remarks yesterday in which he appeared to rule out a coalition with the Scottish nationalists.

     
  71.  
    @robindbrant Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: .@UKIP give a taster of what's to come in #ge2015 manifesto with list of 100 things they'd do - link

     
  72.  
    15:09: Afghanistan service Peter Hunt Royal correspondent, BBC News
    The Queen at the Cenotaph memorial service

    The BBC's Peter Hunt tweets that Prince Charles - and not the Queen - will attend a service in March commemorating the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. The Queen, in 2009, attended a service marking the end of combat operations in Iraq.

    Earlier today in the House of Commons, David Cameron announced the service would take place on 13 March.

     
  73.  
    15:01: Consensus collapsing? The Guardian

    George Monbiot writes in The Guardian that the rise of more left-wing parties across Europe - such as Syriza and the Scottish National Party - heralds the "sudden death of the neoliberal consensus". He claims: "If people voted for what they wanted, the Greens would be the party of government."

    Natalie Bennett and Green Party supporters
     
  74.  
    14:51: Tim Reid Political correspondent, BBC News

    Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, speaking before the apology, described Lord Wigley's remarks - comparing the Trident base on the Clyde to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz - as "offensive". Mr Carmichael said the Welsh nationalist peer's comments were offensive to those who died and to those who worked at the Faslane naval base.

     
  75.  
    14:43: PMQs reaction The Spectator

    The Spectator's political editor James Forsyth says that, with little of substance said between the party leaders, "at the end of PMQs, politics was in the same place as it was at the start" - and this suits David Cameron and the Conservatives, who are "now convinced that events are moving their way".

     
  76.  
    14:35: If I were PM... The Independent
    10 Downing Street

    The Independent is counting down the days to the general election by inviting one contributor every day to describe what he or she would do as prime minister. Political commentator John Rentoul was first up yesterday, saying he'd be like "a free-market version of Natalie Bennett".

    Today it's the turn of Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

     
  77.  
    14:31: House of Commons Parliament

    Over in the House of Commons, the debate on government spending on the NHS is - quite predictably - proving to be a tetchy session. Health minister Dr Daniel Poulter is batting for the government, but there are lots of shouts being directed at him from sedentary positions on the Labour benches.

    House of Commons wide shot
     
  78.  
    14:25: Election battlegrounds The Daily Telegraph
    David Cameron and Ed Miliband

    Over at The Telegraph, James Kirkup provides a brief summary of the issues set to dominate the election - from the NHS and the economy to housing and "Dave vs Ed".

     
  79.  
    14:22: Auschwitz comments

    Comments made by Ex-Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley (pictured) comparing the Trident base in Scotland to Auschwitz concentration camp are branded "crass" and "offensive" by Conservative former Wales Secretary, David Jones. Mr Jones, Clwyd West MP, says it is right the peer apologised, albeit in a "mealy-mouthed" way. He says it was "not appropriate at any time" to use Auschwitz to make political points, "but to say it at Holocaust memorial time is even worse".

    Ex-Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley
     
  80.  
    @TimReidBBC Tim Reid, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Nicola Sturgeon says Europe at heart of SNP election campaign - party will seek future vote that EU exit only poss if all 4 nations agree

     
  81.  
    14:14: PMQs reaction The Mirror

    At the Mirror online, Sunday People political editor Nigel Nelson sketches a frustrating bout between David Cameron and Ed Miliband: "The PM has adopted a curious habit for these sessions of late. Whatever the Labour leader asks, Mr Cameron answers an entirely different question."

     
  82.  
    14:08: NHS major incidents BBC News Channel

    Commenting on the new guidelines given in the West Midlands, former NHS Trust chairman Roy Lilley says they are "sensible but... very tough". He says it is clear the timing is to do with the forthcoming general election "because the more hospitals that go in to declaring a major emergency the more embarrassing it gets for the government". But he says it puts hospitals in a "very difficult place" as the harder it becomes to declare a major incident, the greater the "risk" in delivering services.

     
  83.  
    13:58: PMQs reaction

    Something about today's PMQs seems to have got a lot of commentators rather frustrated. Mark Ferguson of the LabourList blog tweets: "I hate having to watch PMQs. Worst part of the job. Writing about this turgid nonsense is like drowning in nonsense." Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post UK's political director, is just as desperate in his tweet: "Completely pointless and childish #pmqs today. Seems to get worse each week. British politics at its most dire and unappealing."

     
  84.  
    13:56: Lord Wigley's statement Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Lord Wigley has apologised for his remarks about Auschwitz. He said he was sorry if his remarks were open to misinterpretation. In a statement he said: "I am certainly sorry if my remarks were open to any misinterpretation and I apologise for any offence that has been caused. The point I was trying to make was that you can't have jobs at any cost and I reiterate that."

     
  85.  
    13:55: Apology for Auschwitz comments

    Plaid Cymru peer Lord Wigley has apologised for "any offence caused" after he compared the effects of a Trident submarine base to a Nazi death camp. Here's our story about his original comments which came on BBC Radio 4's World at One.

     
  86.  
    13:53: NHS strike in N Ireland

    A strike by NHS workers in Northern Ireland, including ambulance staff, is to go ahead tomorrow after the "failure" to match a pay offer in England, the GMB union has said.

     
  87.  
    13:48: TV debates The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Turning to the TV election debates, Lib Dem minister Simon Hughes predicts that they probably won't go ahead - but tells the World at One that the Lib Dems want them to. He says the situation has shifted from the initial proposition - which didn't allow the Lib Dems to put their case "equally" as a party of government - to a position where there are so many prospective players "it becomes a very difficult place". He adds that the Tories and Labour are now saying they're not happy unless the Northern Ireland parties are involved - but questions whether including a further three or four parties is realistic. "Honest judgement, money on it, I think probably they won't but we would like them to as long as there is fair treatment for us and others."

     
  88.  
    13:40: PMQs verdict New Statesman

    Over at the New Statesman, George Eaton judges David Cameron's "chutzpah" to have carried him over the line in this week's PMQs. "The session descended into one of the ugliest encounters yet between the two men," he writes, before notching up yet another defeat for Ed Miliband: "Most voters will notice Miliband's equivocation and the rhetorical exaggerations that Cameron provokes... the PM's ruthless form was testimony to his increasing confidence."

     
  89.  
    13:39: MoD... golf courses?

    Defence secretary Michael Fallon has raised eyebrows during his speech at the Institute of Government by revealing the Ministry of Defence owns 15 golf courses. After confirming his department needs to make more efficiency savings in the coming years, he suggested further cuts were essential. "How many cars and vehicles do we really need?" the Daily Mail quoted him as saying. "And does MoD really need to own 15 golf courses?"

    Michael Fallon
     
  90.  
    13:30: 'Weaponise the NHS'? The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Pressed over whether Ed Miliband said he wanted to "weaponise" the NHS, shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker says Labour will prioritise the health service because that, he says, is what the public wants.

     
  91.  
    13:28: Major incidents rules The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Asked about the guidance given to hospitals over when they call "major incidents", Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes tells Radio 4's World at One programme it seems "entirely sensible". Conservative minister Mark Harper says the document was issued by the NHS in West Midlands and ministers had nothing to do with it. He acknowledges there are "unprecedented pressures" on the NHS and says only a strong economy can deliver a sustainable NHS.

     
  92.  
    13:17: 'What is NHS England's involvement?' House of Commons Parliament

    Finally, Labour MP Clive Efford asks "what is NHS England's involvement?" in the guidance on major incidents. Jeremy Hunt says he is "quoting selectively" from the guidance. When a local health body makes a decision on a major incident, "it must make sure there isn't going to be a negative impact on the wider economy because patients must come first".

     
  93.  
    13:16: Conservatives reject 'war on Wales' charge Robin Brant Political Correspondent, BBC News

    In the post-PMQs briefing, the Conservatives say Ed Miliband's claim the PM was mounting a "war on Wales" was an "extraordinary comment to make". PM was "absolutely right" to highlight problems in Welsh NHS, they add.

     
  94.  
    13:13: 'Rely on professionals' House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MP Stephen Mosley says ministers should "rely on local health professionals to make the best choices". Jeremy Hunt agrees. "We don't want an NHS where every single operational decision is taken from behind the health secretary's desk," he tells the House, claiming that this approach will keep politics out.

     
  95.  
    13:07: 'My duty to weaponise NHS' House of Commons Parliament

    Labour MP Barry Sheerman says "it is my duty as a member of the opposition to weaponise" the NHS.

    He argues that Labour needs to win the election and stop the government's "disgraceful policies".

    Jeremy Hunt replies that "there are too many on the Labour side who think exactly like that".

     
  96.  
    13:04: TV debates Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Pollster Ben Page of Ipsos Mori, interviewed on the Daily Politics, says the televised election debates are "almost certain" to happen. He says voters aren't particularly bothered, "to be honest", about the to-and-fro over their exact format which is getting Westminster types so worked up. But he accepts David Cameron is doing well in negotiating to ensure the debates that suit him best.

     
  97.  
    13:03: 'One of the first' House of Commons Parliament

    Labour's David Winnick says Walsall Manor Hospital was "one of the first to declare a major incident" over demand in its A&E department. The Walsall North MP calls on the health secretary not to "minimise" the problems.

     
  98.  
    13:02: Ammunition for Labour Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Norman Smith says the fact the NHS document at the centre of today's exchanges refers to local politics and the media will give Labour ammunition with which to maintain their claims that hospitals are being put under political pressure to avoid calling major incidents.

     
  99.  
    13:00: Breaking News Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    The former leader of Plaid Cymru has compared the Trident base on the Clyde to Auschwitz in an interview with the BBC. Lord Wigley's comments come the day after events across Europe to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camps.

    Asked about a report that the Trident base could be moved to Wales, Lord Wigley said: "No doubt there were many jobs provided in Auschwitz and places like that but that didn't justify their existence and neither does nuclear weapons justify having them in Pembrokeshire."He is currently Plaid Cymru's general election coordinator.

    (You can listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4's World at One, via the Live Coverage tab on this page.)

     
  100.  
    12:59: Women in politics Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    With a pic of New Labour's 'Blair babes' in the background, the Daily Politics is now looking at the issue of getting more women into Parliament. As Caroline Flint points out, Labour has more women MPs and ethnic minority MPs than all the other parties put together. But she adds: "There was positive discrimination going in favour of men in my party and in other parties for many, many years." David Willetts accepts the Conservatives "need to make more progress" - but says he hopes there will be many more Tory women in Parliament after the election.

    Daily Politics on women in politics
     

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