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Ed Balls’ speech on balancing the books – full text and audio

22 September 2014

1:27 PM

22 September 2014

1:27 PM

Twenty years ago, starting at this Labour conference, we together took the historic step of reforming our party’s constitution.

The result is on the back of our membership cards today.

listen to ‘Ed Balls addresses the Labour conference’ on Audioboo

Our goal: ‘a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few.’

Our conviction, that: ‘By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’.

Twenty years on, that Labour vision – our Labour values – are more relevant than they have ever been.

Because, while our economy is growing again, taxes are up, wages are down, NHS waiting times are rising, and most working people are still not seeing any benefit from the recovery.

It’s no wonder the country is crying out for change.

But at a time when trust in politicians is at an all-time low – and when even after deep spending cuts and tax rises for working people, our deficit is still high – this is our task.

Not to flinch from the tough decisions we must make. But to show the country that there is a better way forward.

Labour’s plan for Britain’s future. Our common endeavour: to build an economy that works for the many, and not just a few, for all working people in every part of our United Kingdom.

And Conference, when we think of those words – ’by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’ – don’t they resonate more loudly after the events of the last few days?

Because Conference, we meet here in Manchester, a united party in our still United Kingdom.

And let us pay tribute to Johan Lamont and Margaret Curran, Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown, Anas Sawar, Jim Murphy, Douglas Alexander, in my team Cathy Jamieson, all the MPs and MSPs, party workers and volunteers, many more beyond our own party too, who have worked so tirelessly to win last week’s vote. Conference, we thank them all.

But let us never forget, after all the campaigning and brilliant barnstorming speeches, the decision to stay together and shape Scotland’s future within our United Kingdom was not made by politicians or pundits but by the people of Scotland.

They voted to retain the shared prosperity, and security, and solidarity that our union delivers. But the people of Scotland did not vote for the status quo. They voted for the opportunity to shape Scotland’s future with greater devolution. And it is our duty to deliver on that promise – and for Wales and for the cities and regions of England too.

Yes, we do need to change our constitution and reform and strengthen our union in a fair way – a process which should start from the people, not politicians. But we know too that people in Scotland and across the rest of the United Kingdom want bigger change than that.

Change which goes beyond powers and processes, parliaments and constitutions. Radical change to build an economy that works for all working people.

Conference, knocking on doors in my constituency a few Sundays ago, I spoke to a mum in Outwood.

She told me her teenage son had finished college and had been looking for a job for ages.

She was so relieved when he finally got one, but worried he’s on a zero-hours contract.

Every morning he has to ring in at 7 o’clock to see if they want him.

And when they say no, and he can do nothing else until the next morning, she said it breaks her heart.

Because he deserves better than this. And she’s right. And that story is not the exception.

It’s one of thousands and thousands of doorstep stories all of us hear across our country every week.

Parents worried about whether their children will get a job or an apprenticeship and whether the next generation will be worse off than their own.

Relying on us – Labour – to make things better.

Families and pensioners seeing prices in the shops and heating bills going up and up.

Millions of people – in the private and public sectors – struggling without a pay rise or unable to get the hours they need, still not feeling the benefit of this recovery.

And relying on us – Labour – to make things better.

Young people struggling to save to get on and buy a house.

Disabled people and family carers forced to pay the government’s Bedroom Tax.

Thousands of people working in our NHS, millions more who depend upon it, worried about rising waiting times and creeping privatisation.

All relying on us – Labour – to make things better.

And Conference, we must not let them down.

And that is why it is our job to go on and win the General Election so we can change Britain and deliver our country from this unfair, out of touch and failing Tory Government.

Conference, we all know the great weight of responsibility we carry on our shoulders.

And that is why our party is so united and determined and fired up to get Ed into Downing Street.

Over the last four years, Ed has led us from the front.

Reforming our party and leading a Shadow Cabinet with more women than ever before and more BME candidates than ever before.

Modernising our relationship with the trade unions.

Standing up for the victims of phone-hacking.

Speaking up for the British people on the cost of living crisis.

Demanding the reforms we need to change our economy.

At every turn, he has led this party with courage, strength, principle and vision, and he will do the same for our country.

Our leader, Britain’s next Prime Minister, Ed Miliband.

And as for David Cameron and George Osborne, going round the country saying they’ve fixed the economy, telling people they’ve never had it so good.

How out of touch can you get?

Prices still rising faster than wages.

And the Tories say they’ve fixed the economy.

The slowest recovery for 100 years.

Business investment still lagging behind .

The lowest level of house building since the ‘20s.

One in six young people out of work.

The gender pay gap widening again.


Over a million zero hours contracts.

Working people £1,600 a year worse off.

And the Tories say they’ve fixed the economy?

What planet are they on?

Conference, working people can’t afford five more years of the Tories.

We know what the Tories really mean when they say they’ve fixed the economy.

The millionaires who got a massive tax cut.

That’s who the Tories have fixed it for.

The hedge funds funding the Tory party.

That’s who the Tories have fixed it for.

The big investors buying the Royal Mail on the cheap.

Russian oligarchs buying tennis matches with Boris and Dave.

That’s who the Tories have fixed it for.

Conference, it’s the same old Tories.

And it’s the same old Tory economics.

Cutting taxes at the top and hoping wealth will somehow trickle down.

Standing up for a privileged few, while everyone else is left behind

For the few not the many.

David Cameron, George Osborne, and Nick Clegg.

And now David Cameron thinks a grateful and devoted nation will give him another five years in Downing Street.

You know what – even his own party don’t believe him anymore

Remember Cameron’s A list?

Nine Tories elected in 2010 already standing down.

From the A List to the Exit Door in just four years.

Nine Tories leaving.

Another scurrying off to UKIP.

And Boris scrambling back to Westminster, preparing to elbow David Cameron out of the way.

That’s today’s Tories.

Giving up on Cameron.

Giving up on the General Election.

Starting to fight the next Tory leadership election instead.

Conference, we know working people can’t afford five more years of the Tories.

But this is no time for complacency.

Because this is the hard truth that we learn – not just from events in Scotland – but also from the local and European elections, the rise of UKIP and from the conversations we all have on the doorstep and in our workplaces week after week.

Yes, the Tories are deeply unpopular.

And yes, the country is crying out for change.

But, even after the progress and successes of our last four years, we have more work to do to show Labour can deliver the change that people want to see.

To show that we have learned from our time in government, that we will make the tough decisions we need to get the deficit down, and that we can change our economy and make it work for working people.

So Conference it’s more important than ever that we – the Labour Party – are honest with the country about what the last Labour government got right and what we got wrong.

Like you, I’m proud of many of the things we did.

Conference, we – Labour – introduced the first ever national minimum wage – and we will raise it if we win the election next year.

We – Labour – introduced free nursery places for the first time – and we will expand free childcare for working parents if we win the election.

We – Labour – introduced civil partnerships and paved the way this year for our country’s first ever same-sex marriages.

We opened 3,500 Sure Start children’s centres.

We made the right call on not joining the Euro.

And most important of all, starting in 1997, after 18 years of neglect, we reformed the NHS, we invested in the NHS, we reduced waiting times from 18 months to 18 weeks in the NHS.

Conference, we saved our National Health Service from the Tories.

And next year, after just five years of David Cameron – with waiting times rising, fewer nurses and a crisis in A&E – we will have to save the NHS from the Tories once again. And we will do what it takes.

Because Conference, it’s the oldest truth in British politics: you can never ever trust the Tories with our NHS.

So we can be proud of many things we did.

But where we made mistakes – like all governments do – we should be grown up about it.

We should put our hands up, learn from the past and explain how we will do things differently in the future.

So Conference, we should have had tougher rules on immigration from Eastern Europe – it was a mistake not to have transitional controls in 2004.

And we must change the rules in the future.

Longer transitional controls for new countries.

A longer time people have to work before they can get unemployment benefit.

Stopping people claiming child benefit and tax credits for families abroad.

Cracking down on employers who exploit migrant workers and undercut wages by avoiding the minimum wage and proper rights at work.

Tough controls, fair rules.

That is what we mean by fair movement not free movement.

And Conference, while it was the banks which caused the global recession, and it was the global recession which caused deficits to rise here in Britain and around the world, the truth is we should have regulated those banks in a tougher way.

It was a mistake. We should apologise for it. And I do.

And so as we get the deficit down, we must reform our banks for the future so that can never happen again.

And Conference, and we didn’t do enough to tackle the underlying causes of rising spending on housing benefit and in-work poverty.

So the next Labour government will raise the minimum wage, build more homes to get the housing benefit bill down and cap overall spending on social security.

And Conference, we should not have scrapped the 10p starting rate of income tax.

But we don’t just need to learn from our mistakes.

We also need to put right the mistakes this Government has made.
So we won’t pay for new free schools in areas where there are excess school places.

We will repeal the NHS Bill and stop the creeping privatisation of the National Health Service.
And yes, Conference, in our first Budget, the next Labour government will scrap the Bedroom Tax too.

Building on our record.

Learning from the mistakes of the last Labour government.

And putting right the mistakes of this Tory Government.

A changed Labour Party to change Britain.

But we will face great challenges.
Working people are already paying more taxes.

Our public services are under great pressure.

We know there would have been tough decisions on tax, spending and pay restraint in this parliament whoever was in government.

But three years of lost growth at the start of this parliament means we will have to deal with a deficit of £75 billion – not the balanced budget George Osborne promised by 2015.

And that will make the task of governing hugely difficult.

And this goes to the heart of the political challenge we face.

People know we are the party of jobs, living standards and fairness for working people.

But they also need to know that we will balance the books and make the sums add up and that we won’t duck the difficult decisions we will face if they return us to government.

Working people have had to balance their own books.

And they are clear that the government needs to balance its books too.

So Labour will balance the books in the next parliament.

These will be our tough fiscal rules. We will get the current budget into surplus and the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament.

Tough fiscal rules that our National Policy Forum endorsed in July, demonstrating that, however difficult, our party can unite in tough times to agree a radical, credible and fully costed programme for government.

And we will legislate for these tough fiscal rules in the first year after the election and they will be independently monitored by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

So in our manifesto there will be no proposals for any new spending paid for by additional borrowing.

No spending commitments without saying where the money is coming from.

Because we will not make promises we cannot keep and cannot afford.

And because we will need an iron commitment to fiscal discipline, we want the Office for Budget Responsibility to be allowed to independently audit the costing of every spending and tax measure in Labour’s manifesto – and those of the other main parties too.

A bold reform which the Tories are desperate to block. Because they are running scared from having their own manifesto subject to independent scrutiny.

And because David Cameron and George Osborne want to carry on peddling untruths and smears about Labour’s plans.

Conference, the next Labour government will get the deficit down.

And Ed Miliband and all my Shadow Cabinet colleagues are clear it will mean cuts and tough decisions and we will take the lead.

So I can announce today that if we win the election, on day one of the next Labour government, the pay of every government Minister will immediately be cut by five per cent.

Ministerial pay will then be frozen each year until we have achieved our promise to balance the nation’s books

Because we are all clear that everybody in the next Labour government will be fully focused on that vital task of getting the deficit down.

And Conference, our Zero-Based Review of public spending is examining every pound spent by government to cut out waste and make different choices.

Andy Burnham is setting out how we can save money, and improve care by pooling health and social care with a single budget and joint management.

Yvette Cooper has set out how police forces will work more closely together to make savings. And we will scrap Police and Crime Commissioners so that we can do more to protect frontline policing.

Hilary Benn is working with the toughest and best generation of local government leaders we have ever had to make savings and free up resources for the front-line.

We will look to prioritise early intervention now which can save billions of pounds in the future.

And we will insist that all the proceeds from the sale of our stakes in Lloyds and RBS are used not for a frivolous pre-election giveaway – but instead that every penny of profit will be used to repay the national debt.

Conference, fiscal responsibility in the national interest.

And we will have to make other decisions which I know will not be popular with everyone.

At a time when the public services that pensioners rely on are under such pressure, we will stop paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest five per cent of pensioners.

Over the long-term, as life expectancy rises, we will need to continue to raise the retirement age to keep our pensions system affordable.

We will cap structural social security spending and keep the benefits cap, but we will make sure it properly reflects local housing costs.

I want to see child benefit rising again in line with inflation in the next parliament, but we will not spend money we cannot afford. So for the first two years of the next parliament, we will cap the rise in child benefit at one per cent. It will save £400 million in the next Parliament. And all the savings will go towards reducing the deficit.


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