Ed Balls's speech to Labour Party Annual Conference 20121 October 2012
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Ed Balls MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, said today at Labour Party Annual Conference 2012:
Conference, we meet here in Manchester, two years on from our leadership election, a contest held in the shadow of a General Election defeat.
And we all know what’s supposed to happen when political parties lose elections: acrimony and division, the party turning in on itself, out of touch with the views of the country.
Well Conference, two years on, in this generation, we have bucked that trend. I can’t remember our party ever being so united, so determined to win back the trust of the people.
And with our economy in recession, and the unfairness and incompetence of this Tory-led coalition now laid bare, let us show we are the people to rebuild Britain, strong and fair for the future.
And Conference, making the case for change, setting the agenda – on reform of our media, and banks, responsibility in our economy from top to bottom; showing the strength of purpose and moral conviction which won him the job and which will get him to Downing Street; Conference, let us pay tribute to my friend, our leader, Britain’s next Prime Minister, Ed Miliband.
Conference, I am proud to serve in Ed’s Shadow Cabinet - now with more than 40 per cent women, the first time that has ever happened in British politics.
And what a contrast to David Cameron's Cabinet: where the men get the jobs, the women get the sack and only the chaps get the knighthoods.
Let me ask you this: what does it take to get sacked from David Cameron’s Cabinet?
Swear at a police officer and call him a ‘pleb’? And you’re defended to the hilt.
Get caught red-handed texting market sensitive information to News International? You get promoted.
Flat-line the economy and deliver the most unfair and shambolic Budget in living memory? And you stay in post – more than that, you’re allowed to do it part-time.
Do all those things and David Cameron will let you keep your job. But not if you’re a woman.
Conference, what kind of Prime Minister thinks it’s fair to sack a 54 year old woman from his Cabinet because she’s 'too old' - and then give the job to a 56 year old man instead?
Let me tell you: a Prime Minister who only appoints five women in the first place, sacks three of them, demotes the other two - and then attacks the Labour leadership for not being 'butch' enough.
Butch? Butch? Whatever did he mean? And if David Cameron is butch, where does that leave George Osborne?
Perhaps this is why George Osborne will never be sacked. A Prime Minister and a Chancellor destined to go down fighting together. And this time, let’s see them riding off into the sun-set. Butch Cameron and the flat-line kid.
And Conference, doesn't it feel good to be back here in Manchester?
Or, should I say, to be back here in Labour Manchester: four Labour MPs, three world class universities, two world-beating football teams, one Labour Council. And not a single Tory Councillor in this whole city - not a single one.
Let us pledge today to keep it that way, and elect the brilliant Lucy Powell as Manchester's first ever Labour woman MP.
And let me say too, I can think of no-one better to be Manchester’s first ever Police and Crime Commissioner than the wise and highly respected Tony Lloyd.
And Conference, at a time of such tragedy for policing in this city, our whole country remembers two brave officers who lost their lives doing their duty, and we pay tribute to all those public servants up and down the country - police officers, fire-fighters, our armed forces - who every day put their lives on the line to keep us safe.
And Conference, as we rightly praise the success of London 2012, let's not forget it was Manchester’s hosting of the 2002 Commonwealth Games which showed the way, proving that Britain was ready to stage the biggest international sporting events.
So Conference, we salute Graham Stringer and Sir Richard Leese as we salute all those people who brought the Olympics to London, and made them such a success - Tony Blair and Prince William, Ken Livingstone and Gordon Brown, Lord Coe and Boris Johnson, too many others to mention.
But let us remember that none of them would have been able to play their part if not for the one person who made it all possible. Conference, please join me in thanking Dame Tessa Jowell.
Conference, it was Tessa’s officials who told her it would be a disaster to bid for the 2012 Games. It would cost too much, the stadiums would never be ready, London’s transport wouldn’t cope, the security would be a nightmare.
Tessa could have listened to all those concerns, but she didn’t. She persevered. We won the bid. And the rest is now part of our national history.
And Conference, this is the lesson we all should learn. With wise leadership and long-term vision and a strong partnership between government and citizens, business, trade unions and the voluntary sector, we can do great things, we can lead the rest of the world and we can rebuild Britain for the future.
But if you listen to the doubters, if you never take a risk, if you flinch when obstacles are in the way, you will never get anything done.
And if you spend your whole time fighting short-term political battles - Dave versus Boris, Boris versus George, George versus Vince - you will never rise to the long-term needs of the country. And in the end, you let people down and lose their trust.
And nowhere is that more obvious than in our economy today.
Thank goodness the Olympics has given us a short-term shot in the arm, that might just be enough to take us out of recession this quarter.
But that is no substitute for a long-term strategy. Not when families are struggling to make ends meet. Not when food and fuel prices are going up, but wages are frozen and tax credits cut.
Not when so many young people have been unable to find work or stay-on in education. Not when so many small businesses are struggling to raise finance so they can survive until the year-end.
Not when so many working people in the private sector and public sectors are worried about their jobs and their pensions - the human cost of this economic failure.
Remember what David Cameron, and George Osborne and Nick Clegg promised: that faster tax rises and deeper spending cuts would secure the recovery and make Britain a safe haven; that theirs was the only credible plan to deal with the national debt; and that we were all in this together.
Conference, the recovery secured? We’re just one of only two G20 countries in recession – the longest double-dip recession since the Second World War.
A credible plan to deal with our debts? Because we are in recession, the deficit is now not going down, it’s going up – up by 22 per cent so far this year. Rising borrowing not to invest in the jobs of the future but to pay for the mounting costs of this government’s economic failure.
Conference, there is nothing credible about a plan that leads to: a double-dip recession, thousands of businesses bust, a million young people out of work, billions wasted on a soaring benefits bill, and borrowing going up not down. That’s not credible, that is just plain wrong.
And as for ‘we’re all in this together’, we don’t hear that line anymore.
Not from a Chancellor who presented the most unfair and unpopular Budget in a generation. A Chancellor who tried to raise taxes on pasties, caravans, churches and charities, but who refuses to look seriously at proposals for a mansion tax.
A Chancellor who in six months’ time will raise taxes for pensioners on the very same day he cuts the top rate of tax for the very richest – a £3 billion tax cut, giving £40,000 a year to a millionaire.
Conference, what kind of government asks millions of pensioners to pay for a tax cut for millionaires?
What kind of government believes low-paid women will only work harder if you take away their tax credits and make them worse off, but millionaires will only work harder if you give them a tax cut to make them better off?
Conference, isn’t this the truth, we know what kind of government this is: failing on the economy, failing on the deficit, hitting the many to help a privileged few. Arrogant, complacent, out of touch.
Conference, it’s the same old Tory government. David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg. The same old Tories, every one of them.
But you know what the worst thing is? For two years they’ve told us all this pain will be worth it in the end, that it’ll be short-term pain for long-term gain.
But what we are now seeing is short-term pain already doing long-term damage.
Look at the facts: over 33,000 companies already gone bust since the General Election; investment plans cancelled – or diverted overseas; our economy weaker, capacity lost, more prone to inflationary pressures when the recovery finally comes; child poverty rising, and long-term youth unemployment becoming entrenched, damaging them for the rest of their lives.
And Conference, if we carry on like this - a divided coalition, muddling through, no vision, waiting for something to turn up - the danger is that two lost years becomes three and four and that we slip into a lost decade of slow growth, high unemployment and stagnation.
Lost investment, lost output, lost jobs, lost exports, lost tax revenues - a decade when we fail to make the investments and the reforms we need to make our economy stronger and fairer for the future.
And Conference, it doesn’t have to be this way.
While Britain has been stalled over the past two years, other countries have been forging ahead. Last year private investment in Germany rose by over seven per cent. One million extra students enrolled in university in America. China is building 80,000 miles of roads a year and is now planning 70 new airports.
And here in Britain? Private investment? Down over 2 per cent last year.
More students? No, over 50,000 fewer.
And not one of the road projects David Cameron announced last year even started in construction.
And when you look at this picture of stagnation and inaction in our economy, it’s no wonder the deficit is now rising.
We warned two years ago that drastic spending cuts and early tax rises - too far, too fast - risked choking off the recovery and making a difficult situation worse. We warned that you either learn the lessons of history or you repeat the mistakes of history.
Because this is the fundamental truth: if more people are on the dole, not paying taxes, you can’t get the deficit down. If businesses are going bust, not hiring new workers, you can’t get the deficit down. If the economy’s not growing, you can’t get the deficit down.
And that is why we must act now to kick-start the recovery, tackle the causes of rising borrowing and start to make our economy stronger for the future.
A year ago, we set out five actions the government should take - then and now - to boost growth:
Tax bankers’ bonuses and build 25,000 social homes for rent and guarantee a job for 100,000 young people.
Genuinely bring forward long-term investment in infrastructure.
Temporarily reverse the damaging VAT rise.
Give every small firm taking on extra workers a one year national insurance tax break.
And cut VAT to 5 per cent for a year on home improvements and repairs.
But Conference, since last year David Cameron’s government has done next to nothing.
Their economic plan is failing – and they don’t know what to do. Plan A, Plan B, Plan A plus - with this government, I just don’t see any plan at all.
Conference, one year on, the need to kick-start the economy is even more urgent.
So we must go further. With 119,000 construction jobs lost in two years and a 68 per cent fall in the number of affordable homes being built, we need bold and urgent action now.
So with Hilary Benn and Jack Dromey, this is what I propose. The Government is anticipating a windfall of up to £4bn from the sale of the 4G mobile phone spectrum.
In the good times, Labour used every penny of the £22bn from the sale of the 3G licenses to pay off national debt. But in difficult times, we urgently need to put something back into the economy.
So with this one-off windfall from the sale of the 4G spectrum, let’s cut through this Government’s dither and rhetoric and actually do something. Not more talk, but action right now.
Let’s use that money from the 4G sale and build over the next two years: 100,000 new homes – affordable homes to rent and to buy - creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and getting our construction industry moving again. Add to that a stamp duty holiday for first time buyers buying homes up to £250,000 and we can deliver real help for people aspiring to get on the property ladder.
Conference, a clear and costed plan to kick-start the economy and get people back to work. Building the homes that we need now and for the long-term. Building our way out of recession and re-building Britain for the future.
And we also need reform to boost long-term investment and skills - the only routes to rising living standards for working families.
Chuka is right to say we need a modern industrial policy to support long-term wealth creation, with strategic support for our advanced manufacturing and service industries.
And we need to work and campaign together to tackle tax avoidance, end bogus self-employment, prevent a race to the bottom through regional pay; and enforce the minimum wage, help parents balance work and family life and make sure our labour market is genuinely flexible and fair to working people, and let’s go further and promote the living wage.
And we know too our banking system needs cultural change and radical reform - reform which this Government is only interested in watering down.
That is why Ed Miliband and I are clear, we do need:
A full, open and independent public inquiry into the culture and practices of our banking system.
Radical reform to separate retail and investment banking.
Active support for mutuals and co-operatives.
A continued campaign for an international financial transactions tax.
And a proper British Investment Bank – fully backed by the Treasury.
And Conference, let me say this about the hundreds of thousands of working people, earning ordinary salaries, who work hard every day behind the counters of our high street banks.
They were as shocked and dismayed as everyone else at the gross irresponsibility and greed of a few millionaire bankers at the top who caused such damage and gave their industry a bad name. Working people who want tougher regulation, who want banks to work for the long-term interests of our economy, and who do not deserve to be pilloried for their hard work and service.
Conference, the financial crisis did expose deep-rooted problems in our economy.
After the global financial crash, it was always going to be difficult to get the deficit down. And even if we do get the economy growing again, even if we do reform our banking system for the future, we’re still going to face tough choices in the years ahead.
But the longer this Government staggers on with a failing economic plan, the worse it will get and the harder the job will be. Hard times will last longer than all of us hoped. And we cannot promise to put everything right straight away.
That is why, however difficult this may be, when we don’t know what we will inherit, we cannot make any commitments now that the next Labour government will be able to reverse particular tax rises or spending cuts. Because, unlike Nick Clegg, we will not make promises we cannot keep.
Of course we’ll make different choices – we’ll do things in a fairer and more balanced way and put jobs and growth first.
But Conference, as I said to the TUC, we must be upfront with the British people that under Labour there would have been cuts and that – on spending, pay and pensions – there will be difficult decisions in the future from which we will not flinch.
Before the next election – when we know the circumstances we will face – we will set out for our manifesto tough new fiscal rules to get our country's current budget back to balance and national debt on a downward path.
Not a meaningless fiscal rule like George Osborne’s - a promise to balance the books in five years time, with that five year period moving forward every single year.
Conference, our fiscal rules will be monitored, independently, by the Office for Budget Responsibility, and we will take the action required to meet them. And when we sell off the Government’s shares in the banks every penny will go to repay the national debt. Conference, fiscal responsibility in the national interest.
And because we all know there can be no post-election spending spree, in our first year in government we will hold a zero-based spending review that will look at every pound spent by government: carefully looking at what the Government can and cannot afford, rooting out waste and boosting productivity, building on the work that Rachel Reeves and Jon Trickett are leading.
But we will do things differently to this Government. Not slashing budgets without a care in the world - damaging the economy, hitting women harder than men – but assessing every pound of taxpayer’s money including for its impact on growth and fairness.
Not opting for short-term cuts that look ‘easy’ but which end up costing more in the long-term - like deep cuts to youth services, to adult mental health services and to public health.
And not ducking the hard long-term issues we know we haven’t properly faced up to and which transcend parties and parliaments and where we badly need a cross-party consensus. So let us get a long-term plan to support the most vulnerable in our society – looked-after children and adults needing social care.
Because this is not just about policy, but about the kind of country we want to be and the way we do our politics.
Where we face important long-term challenges, we must seek a consensus that puts short-term politics aside and puts the national interest first, just as we did over a decade ago when we made the Bank of England independent.
And nowhere is such a consensus more essential than on our national infrastructure.
The lesson of the Olympics is that if we approach major long-term infrastructure projects by building a cross-party sense of national purpose then we can deliver.
And yet, it took 13 years from the opening of the Channel Tunnel to complete the High Speed Rail link to London. Crossrail was delayed for decades.
And why is this so often the case? Yes, our cumbersome planning system. Yes, legitimate concerns for the environment. Too often in the past, governments have assumed that vital public infrastructure can only be funded by public investment – and then baulked at the bill.
But, above all, successive governments – including our own – have ducked or delayed vital decisions on our national infrastructure, allowing short-term politics to come first.
And just look at this government: will Boris or Dave win on Heathrow? Will Conservative MPs block High Speed rail? Will George see off Zac on renewable energy?
What a ridiculous way to run the country. No wonder business is fast losing confidence in this government’s ability to make long-term decisions.
But Conference, it is not just a problem of this government or this parliament - and we have to be the party to break this cycle.
Because if we don’t, if we put off major decisions for another generation, it will be our children and grand-children who will face the consequences.
Let me give you some examples. We must decide how and when we are going to deliver super-fast broadband across the whole of the UK and avoid a two-tier Britain.
We must decide whether we need to replace our antiquated National Grid, or risk more power cuts in the future. We must decide as a country on a clear plan to invest in nuclear power, wind and tidal power and other renewables so we can lead the world in delivering clean, de-carbonised energy and green jobs.
We must decide how we are going to protect our country from rising sea levels and exceptional rainfall, including whether we need to replace or reinforce the Thames Barrier to prevent London from flooding.
And we must decide, alongside vital decisions on rail and airport capacity, how we are going to get more freight off the roads and onto the railways - it won’t help that our grand-children are all driving electric cars if they are still sat in gridlock on the M6 or the M25.
On all these issues, if we don’t start to plan now, what will we say in 30 years’ time when our children ask: ‘why didn’t you act when there was still time?’
That is why we need a comprehensive long-term plan to rebuild Britain’s infrastructure for the 21st century, and a cross-party consensus to deliver it.
And it is why, too, at a time when Government budgets are tight, we must think innovatively about how we can finance these vital projects over the coming decades, drawing on the private sector and long-term pension savings.
So Ed Miliband and I have asked Sir John Armitt, the chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, to consider how long-term infrastructure decision-making, planning, delivery and finance can be radically improved.
And I can announce today that Sir John has agreed to lead this work and to draw up plans for a commission or process, independent of government, that can assess and make proposals on the long term infrastructure needs of our country over the coming decades and help build that consensus.
Not repeating the mistakes of the past, but learning from them. Building a consensus which crosses party lines, without chopping and changing one parliament to the next. A consensus to re-build Britain for the future.
And Conference, there is another lesson we must learn from our history.
Many people have said over recent weeks: ‘this has been Britain’s greatest ever summer’.
But let me remind you of an even greater summer still: the summer of 1945 – the end of six hard years of war – when our nation welcomed its heroes home from the battlefields of Europe, Asia and the Atlantic, and celebrated together the defeat of fascism.
Conference, our predecessors were elected that year to rebuild a country ravaged by conflict.
They faced even greater challenges than we face today: an economy enfeebled by war; a national debt double the size of ours today. And they made tough and unpopular decisions: to continue with rationing; to cut defence spending; and to introduce prescription charges.
But that Labour Cabinet also remained focussed on the long-term task ahead. And they learned from history and rejected the failed austerity of the 1930s.
And that meant they could put in place long-term reforms, enduring achievements, vital to our country’s future: the Beveridge report; new homes for heroes; the school leaving age raised; and, for the first time ever, a National Health Service free to all, based on need not ability to pay - over 60 years later, celebrated in our Olympics opening ceremony for all the world to see, still today the greatest health service in the world.
Conference, they were very different times. But it is our task to recapture the spirit and values and national purpose of that time.
Just think of the people in whose footsteps we now follow. Working men and women who, in the years before, had see a hardship many of us will never experience.
But their suffering did not teach them selfishness, it taught them solidarity. And they never settled for second best in the struggle for education for all, free health care and proper rights at work.
Conference, we owe it to them – but more than that, we owe it to our children and their children to come – to learn from that example, to make the tough decisions but not to sacrifice their futures.
Because when our grandchildren look back at us, what will they say? Will they say we cast a generation of young people on the scrapheap of unemployment?
Will they say we dismantled the NHS and made it harder to go to university?
Will they say we plunged Britain into a decade of economic stagnation while other countries raced ahead? Will they say we left Britain less prosperous, more unequal, more unfair?
Or will they say – even as we made tough and painful decisions - that ours was the generation that got a record number of young people into apprenticeships as well as university.
Ours was the generation that safeguarded the NHS, and started the rebuilding of our national infrastructure.
Ours was the generation that tackled our debts by growing and reforming our economy - and making sure the banking crisis that caused those debts could never happen again.
Ours was the generation that broke from the cycle of political short-termism and started to rebuild Britain anew in the long term national interest.
So let us go forward. Not flinching from tough decisions. Giving our young people hope. Rebuilding Britain for the future.
That is our challenge. That is our mission. Let us rise to it together.