11:31 Monday 28th March 2011
Mid-Morning Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
ANDY HARPER: The Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is in Cambridge this morning, in his new role as Labour’s East of England Champion. He’s hosting a fightback summit with Party members on how they can win back seats here in the Eastern region. So, is this an admission that the Party’s going to have to work hard to win back votes in Cambridgeshire and across our region? Well let’s find out. Good morning to you.
ED BALLS: Hi there.
ANDY HARPER: Now then, would it be fair to say that really this part of the world is bandit country for Labour politicians at the moment? Very little representation these days.
ED BALLS: Well it’s certainly an admission that we’ve got out work cut out, because we didn’t do well at the General Election at all. We lost a number of seats in Norwich and Ipswich, and Yarmouth and Waveney, in Bedford, all across the region. Only two Labour MPs now in Luton. So we’ve got to listen hard, and understand what went wrong. There’s no point in me turning up and saying, we were right, the voters were wrong, and now I’m going to persuade you. We need to do it the other way round. So we have an event today at Homerton College where we’ll have over 100 members of the public in Cambridge telling us what went wrong. We’ve also, before that, got politicians from all across the Eastern region coming together. And we’re going to be talking about what we need to do to get Labour MPs back across this region, which is essential to get a Labour government nationally, and to hear what people are saying. Because there’s no doubt that people were angry about the global downturn. They didn’t think we built enough houses in the eastern region. Immigration hit hard. There’ll also be lots of people who are now saying to themselves, when I voted Liberal Democrat, did I really vote for a big rise in VAT, cuts on this scale, unemployment going up. So I think it’s all to play for. But we’ve got to win that argument.
ANDY HARPER: You of course have strong East Anglian links. So you’re very familiar with the region. And it is a region which likes to do things differently, isn’t it?
ED BALLS: It is. But I was born in Norwich, been a Norwich City fan all my life. I don’t ever remember there not being a Norwich Labour MP. To lose Norwich North and Norwich South both at the same time, that’s quite a big shock for the Labour Party. To have no Labour MPs in Norfolk or in Suffolk, we’ve got to turn that round. This is a region which has always had, in the County areas, some Conservative MPs. But it’s had a tradition of Labour representation. And it’s a real blow to see those Labour MPs not there. And we’ve got to win those arguments. I’ve just been visiting, in the Cambridge Science Park, a company here, Cambridgeshire Temperature Concepts Limited. A brilliant company which does fertility equipment for people who are having trouble conceiving. They got funding support to start up and create jobs from the East of England Development Agency, an agency which has now been abolished by the new Conservative Liberal Government. That’s the kind of thing I need to highlight, to say there’s a better way on jobs and living standards, than the Tory Liberal way.
ANDY HARPER: I saw a quote yesterday which basically said that the Coalition is really just making a bad job of clearing up Labour’s mess. However we look at it now, however unhappy people might be with what’s going on, the cuts and one thing and another, there’s still not really a great affection for Labour, because you are getting the blame.
ED BALLS: Well look, Labour MPs were elected a number of times in Norwich and Ipswich and Waveney and Yarmouth and Bedford, Luton and Stevenage, right across this region, because they knew that we would stand up for jobs and for living standards. There’s no doubt that people were angry during the global financial crisis, and they didn’t think Labour had delivered for them. But a year ago unemployment was falling, and now it’s going up again. People see the economy not doing so well now. In fact we’ve just had the biggest fall in consumer confidence for 20 years. And people who were voting Liberal Democrat, thinking that would make it easier for their kids to go to university, are suddenly told the Liberal Democrats have dumped their manifesto committment. Tuition fees will be £27,000 per young person going to university. I think there’ll be lots of people across this region who voted Liberal Democrat, who will say, never again. What I’ve got to do is persuade them switching to the Conservatives would make things worse. Coming to Labour, the only people who are actually standing up for families on lower and middle incomes, we aren’t the party who will take away your child benefit. We’re not the party who’ll take away your tax credits. We’re the people who invest in the schools, the hospitals, for the future. We’ll also run the economy better, as I think we proved throughout most of the last decade. But there was a global financial crisis. It affected every country. We were hit hard in Britain too.
ANDY HARPER: So if Labour candidates, and canvassers, are saying this to people on the doorstep. This is what we’re going to do. If somebody on the doorstep said to them, right, how are you going to pay for all this then, what would be the reply? It’s one thing to say, this is what’s wrong, and this is what we would do. But how would you pay for it?
ED BALLS: Well we will have canvassers on the doorsteps. We’ve got the local elections coming up in a few weeks time, as well as a Mayoral election in Bedford. And part of our summit is talking about those things. What we’d say is, if unemployment is going up, the economy is not growing. You’ve got fewer people in work paying taxes, more people on benefits. That makes it harder to get the deficit down. Of course we’ve got to have some tax rises and spending cuts. But George Osborne the Chancellor ripped up our more steady plan, and said I’m going to abolish the deficit entirely. The biggest public spending cuts in every major economy in the world, and he said it’s working. It’s actually going to make it harder to get the deficit down. His Budget last week said borrowing was going to be £46 billion higher, not lower. We’ve got to make the argument that a more sensible approach to the deficit will be better for getting the deficit down, and for jobs. The other thing is I say let’s repeat the bank bonus tax for a second year, raise the £2 billion, and use that to build homes across the Eastern region, and also to get young people back to work. That’s a better way forward.
ANDY HARPER: You mention homes, and you said you didn’t build enough homes. I must tell you that we hear so much, as you can imagine, from the people of Cambridgeshire on this programme in particular. And people think in many many cases, there’s far too many homes. There’s homes, but nothing else. And they’re not necessarily saying that Labour didn’t build enough homes, people complain about the number of homes that are built without the infrastructure.
ED BALLS: Well there’ll always be some people complaining about too many homes being built near their house. But I think if you look across the region, it’s much harder for first-time buyers to get on the housing ladder these days. The housing queues for social housing are much longer . And the reason is we’ve not built enough homes in the places where people want to live. You’re completely right. You need to have the infrastructure. But we were building the new schools called Building Schools for the Future, and what the Government did last year was cancel it and put loads of private sector small employees and small business companies out of work, the plumbers and the electricians who are building those schools. We need the infrastructure too, but I think at the end of the day you’ve got to make sure you’re building homes when we’ve got a housing shortage. We need to make sure we build them in the right place, make them affordable, make sure they’re environmentally sound, that they’re not using up greenfield land. But most people are saying to us in the Eastern region there wasn’t enough homes, not that there was too many.
ANDY HARPER: I assume you came up on the M11, but have you been along the A14 recently. And if not, that might be a good thing to do this afternoon.
ED BALLS: (LAUGHS) I actually came on the train.
ANDY HARPER: Oh really. (LAUGHS) I’m glad you had enough money for that.
ED BALLS: And obviously quite regularly I go on the A11, and it’s finally going to take another step towards dualling, but there seems to have been a debate about dualling the A11 pretty much all of my life, and it’s never quite happened. A14 as well. We live in Castleford in Yorkshire, and we come to Norwich quite often. So I know about those East/West roads, and whether you’re going Sleaford, or Peterborough, whether you’re going through March or Peakirk and Thorney, it’s always a bit of a drive, especially if you get behind some big tractor. So anything we can do to make the infrastructure better, then that’s a good thing. But I think at the minute, you look at this Conservative Liberal Government, they’re actually cutting the infrastructure, and the trransport investment , and the housing investment. I think we’re going in the wrong direction.
ANDY HARPER: And just finally, I did see you on television, on Saturday morning, before the march started. I saw one chap getting very hot under the collar with you. But what are your reactions to the main march, what it was all about, but also what went on later on in London? How would you distance youreslf from that, if indeed you would?
ED BALLS: I would say that there were a quarter of a million people plus on that march, which the police said was peaceful. These were some Labour Party members and trade unionists, but also there were doctors and nurses, teachers, teaching assistants, mums and dads, public and private sector workers. There will have been people there from the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, and no political party, as well as Labour. The idea that we would allow a couple of hundred immature thugs in another part of London to detract attention from a quarter of a million people saying they want to have a stronger fairer more united country, with more jobs, that would be an outrage. The police have said completely clearly, this was nothing to do with the TUC march. It was a bunch of anarchists looking for publicity. Unfortunately as always happens they got their publicity. But as I said it’s a couple of hunderd thugs. The police were tough on them. I hope the courts will be just as tough. And we should get back to proper protests, where people say right afcross the country, we don’t want to go back to the 1980s. We want to live in a stronger, fairer and more united society.
ANDY HARPER: Just finally, I watched the Canaries at Barnsley a couple of weeks ago ago. They were superb, could have won 6-0 I think. Wes Hoolahan could join Liverpool. Do you think they’re going to get promoted this time?
ED BALLS: I think that the more the season goes on, the better it looks. I saw us at Leeds a couple of weeks ago, where we should have won. They were superb. And the thing about that Bristol City game, the game on Sky a couple of weeks ago, the 85th minute Bristol City score. It’s 1-1. And everybody in Norwich is thinking, they’re going to score. And when they scored the 2nd one everybody’s thinking, they’re going to score another. Because there’s a sense of belief in this team. There’s a fitness. There’s a drive. Paul Lambert’s got them galvanised. I think that we’re not peaking, we’re still on the up. And I think we’ve got a good chance of the Premiership next season. And the fact that Norwich is pretty much the best supported club in the country these days, in terms of the loyalty of its supporters, over 20,000 season tickets sold already. I think we’ve got a good chance of staying up.
ANDY HARPER: We shall see, but we look forward to it. But it’s been really good to talk to you, and enjoy the rest of your visit to Cambridgeshire.
ED BALLS: Thanks Andy.
ANDY HARPER: Cheers. That’s Ed Balls the Shadow Chancellor speaking direct from Cambridge here.