UK Politics

Labour urged to 'pull together' after Johnson departure

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Media captionDouglas Alexander: "The era of Brown and Blair is over"

Labour are "determined to pull together" after the resignation of Alan Johnson, a senior shadow minister says.

Douglas Alexander said Labour would miss his "big contribution" but was united in its deficit reduction policy under new shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.

Mr Balls and Labour leader Ed Miliband agreed that cuts were needed but the coalition was going too fast, he added.

But Deputy PM Nick Clegg said Mr Balls' record in office under Gordon Brown put his "suitability" for the job in doubt.

Labour have insisted Mr Miliband and Mr Balls do not differ on the crucial issue of how quickly to reduce the deficit despite the fact that Mr Balls called for a much slower pace of spending cuts than his then rival during last year's leadership contest.

'Offering answers'

Since Mr Balls' appointment on Thursday, the two men have stressed that they both support the former Chancellor Alistair Darling's policy of halving the deficit in the next four years.

Mr Alexander, who became shadow foreign secretary in the reshuffle triggered by Mr Johnson's decision to quit for personal reasons, said Labour was "united" in its economic policy.

While not opposing every government cut, the opposition would continue to argue for a more "balanced" approach with its emphasis on supporting economic growth.

"Ed [Balls] said in his first day in office that he accepts the position that Ed [Miliband] set out," he told the Andrew Marr show.

"But he has also been very clear, and I genuinely agree with him, that George Osborne is making choices which will mean a longer dole queue and higher welfare bills. The price of George Osborne's errors is going to be paid by families across the country."

However, Mr Alexander urged Labour to provide a credible alternative to the government's plans for £81bn cuts over the next four years.

"We are determined to pull together, leave behind some of the problems of the past, and start anticipating what questions the public will be asking of us over the next three or five years.

"All the headlines are about people being angry and indignant. I think the real challenge for Labour is not just to express anger but to offer answers."

'Brown's ear'

Separately, deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman told the BBC's Politics Show that Mr Balls was "fully in agreement" with the policy to halve the deficit in four years.

Mr Balls would follow the path that Mr Johnson and Mr Miliband had set out in recent months, she said.

Her colleague's "strong grasp of economics" and his personal style - regarded as more combative than Mr Johnson's - would ensure Labour voiced "people's indignation" about the spending cuts.

But Nick Clegg said Mr Balls was the wrong man to solve the UK's financial problems, as he was the architect of many of them when a Treasury minister under Gordon Brown.

"People's record has to be a sort of guide as to whether they are suited to deal with present crises," he told Andrew Marr on BBC One. "We are entitled to ask questions about Ed Balls' record."

"If you ask yourself 'who was in charge of the City when they were gorging themselves on bonuses and lending irresponsibility, who allowed the housing market to let rip, to become a casino and pitch thousands of British families into debt and who was whispering into Gordon Brown's ear, Budget after Budget, creating this huge fiscal deficit?' the answer to all these questions is Ed Balls."

"That record suggests to me they are stuck in the past and have not yet addressed the needs of the future of the British economy."

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