Last week’s Lib Dem conference dealt with a promise Nick Clegg wished he had never made. This week’s Labour conference is in part about promises Ed Miliband and Ed Balls won’t make at all, or at least not for a few years. The Shadow Chancellor was cagey when he appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning, saying ‘I can make no commitment now to reverse any of those cuts or the tax rises, because we don’t know what the economy’s going to be like in two months’ time let alone in two years’ time when the election comes’.
Having kicked up a real song and dance about the government’s decision to scrap the 50p top rate of income tax in the Budget, Balls also conceded to the BBC interviewers that he couldn’t commit to reimposing the rate:
‘Right now the government is, as I said, spending £3 billion for a tax cut on millionaires, they’re only putting up taxes on pensioners by less than that so, right now, if you stopped both those things, the Treasury would be better off not worse off. There’s a £3 billion cost to that millionaires’ tax cut. I can’t say in 215, two and a half years from now what we can promise now on tax and spending and that’s all tax rates, so we’ll need to look.
‘We all know what happened to Nick Clegg’s promises before the last election and he’s now had to apologise for breaking them and the lesson you learn is you make promises when you know the full facts and the situation. Two and a half years’ time – is this government keeps on failing on the economy in recession, goodness knows where we’ll be and can I promise then to make decisions on tax and spend? You’ll have to wait for our manifesto.’
Balls has announced one spending idea this morning, which he emphasised was ‘clear and costed’: to use the £4 billion proceeds of the 4G auction to build 100,000 new homes. It’s one promise he knows he could keep: but if Miliband wants to be seen as the anti-politics politician, Balls clearly wants to be the anti-promise shadow chancellor.