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Balls hits back at criticisms

Labour is winning the economic argument, Ed Balls claimed today, amid stinging criticism of his Commons performance in the wake of George Osborne's Autumn Statement.

The shadow chancellor said the massed ranks of Tory MPs were always going to try to shout down his message and claimed many people have congratulated him on his performance.

And he said he "couldn't give a toss" about speculation in newspapers and by bookmakers about his chances of staying in the job, insisting he had "never been less bothered" about "gossip and tittle tattle" about his performance in a 20-year career.

Mr Balls told the Sky News Murnaghan programme Labour had answers for real people, not just those in the Westminster bubble.

He said: "(We have) a really strong economic argument and that's why 300 Tory MPs were going to shout really loudly from the very beginning.

"I decided I was going to take the argument back to them and say no, there is not a recovery for most working people, living standards are falling.

"What happened the next day? The Institute of Fiscal Studies effectively confirmed the Chancellor is out of touch saying living standards are going up because for most people, they are going down - I think we are winning the argument."

The shadow chancellor questioned why David Cameron and Mr Osborne were laughing on the front bench as he made his case on Thursday, and added: "I have had people coming to me and saying, keep up the fight, because we need a Labour government because we're getting worse off."

And when challenged on people making judgments on his performance and questioning his future, he added: "I'm not complaining at all - what I want to talk about is what is happening in our country.

"The Daily Mail would love me and Ed Miliband out because they want to keep in an out-of-touch Tory Government which is cutting tax at the top.

"That's the nature of politics ... they're betting on David Cameron and George Osborne and Ed Miliband. It's just the way it is ... frankly, I couldn't give a toss."

The former Labour leadership contender said he was not in denial about the role his party played in the 2008 financial crisis, arguing he had taken account for mistakes made - and insisting there was cross-party support for the big economic arguments in 2006.

Mr Balls said: "Every government gets some things right but doesn't do everything right. We were completely right, in my view, to make the Bank independent, have a national minimum wage, not to join the single currency, to get our national debt down, to invest in the National Health Service.

"We did many good things - we should have been tougher on the banks. Should there have been a decision in 2006 to raise interest rates by the Bank of England? I don't know the answer to that, we don't know the extent to which there was an unsustainable housing boom taking off at that point because the global financial crisis knocked it.

"We had a very small deficit on the current account, we had national debt which was low and stable ... I'm not going to apologise the Labour government spent too much on the NHS.

"Do I think we spent every pound wisely? Of course not - but this is the point. When the deficit went up so much, if we had known in advance that was going to happen, would we have decided to raise taxes or cut spending? No, we would have decided to intervene in the banking world to stop that financial crisis happening in the first place.

"That's why I go back to the big mistake of that period."

Speaking earlier on the BBC One Andrew Marr Show, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock backed Mr Balls.

He said: "I could say to him (Mr Balls), 'don't worry son - that wasn't a bad week in my terms'.

"I think he has done well. He's being pasted simply because most of the press are lined up very vehemently against him.

"It is the truth that barracking on a sustained basis is hugely distracting. All Ed wanted to do - and he was absolutely right - is get through two truths.

"First that we are faced with a cost of living crisis... secondly that every single one of the objectives George Osborne set for himself in 2010 he has utterly failed."

Shadow chief Treasury secretary Chris Leslie confirmed that Labour planned to include the basic state pensions in future caps on welfare spending.

Mr Osborne has excluded the retirement payments from a new annual limit on spending which he confirmed would be brought in from 2015.

It will be set at the beginning of each Parliament - and put to MPs for approval - with any breach requiring an explanation from the chancellor and a vote in Parliament.

Mr Leslie said that while Labour backed the exclusion of pensions in the short term, it would be "irresponsible" not to consider their affordability in the longer term.

"We think that they've got a short-term approach," he told BBC1's Sunday Politics.

"They do, as far as I can see, put in some pensioner benefits but the state pension isn't in their short-term cap because, as we believe, a triple lock is a good idea.

"In a 20,30, 40-year frame I think it probably would have to be.

"Over the long term, if you have a serious cap on structural welfare can't just say we can't look at pensions as part of that."

He added: "It would be irresponsible"

Mr Leslie declined to say whether pensions could be included in a cap set from 2015 if Labour wins the general election - saying the party was waiting to see full details of the Government proposal.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Sajid Javid said the Government was " committed to the triple lock long term".

The "triple-lock" guarantees that state pensions will increase by the higher of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%.

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said: "Ed Balls remains in deep denial, unable to accept the severity of the economic mess Labour left behind.

"All Ed Balls offers is the same old Labour answer of more spending, more borrowing and higher taxes.

"In four days Balls has sped from a car crash Commons performance to another one on TV. And he's made clear that Labour can't be trusted behind the wheel of the British economy."


From Belfast Telegraph