Transcript of Ed’s interview on Murnaghan

Murnaghan Interview with Ed Balls, Labour, Shadow Chancellor 19.04.15

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Well now, the Conservatives are once again evoking the spirit of Margaret Thatcher in an effort to win over undecided voters before polling on May 7th, they are promising a 1970s style sell-off of Lloyds Banking shares if they win the election but Labour say it is has been promised before and amounts to pre-election panic. Well I am joined now by Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, a very good morning to you Mr Balls. I want to start all this by first of all saying are you sure you will be Chancellor in a Miliband government, have you got that assurance?

ED BALLS: We’re not measuring any curtains, we’re going to fight every day until general election day. As Ed said a few weeks ago, when it comes to writing the first budget, that’s something the Ed Miliband and I are planning together and are going to do together.

DM: Has he told you you would be Chancellor? You are Shadow Chancellor but you could very well pick somebody else could he not? I mean as Mr Cameron was saying during the week, you were his third choice to be Shadow Chancellor.

ED BALLS: I think we’re being quite presumptuous here. Until the people have voted on election day we’re not going to take anything for granted. Ed Miliband’s the leader, he makes all the decisions about who’s in his government, I have never said to him I demand this job or I want this job but I’m the Shadow Chancellor, we’re working really closely together …

DM: So you’d settle for something else, you’d settle for Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary or something else?

ED BALLS: Look, I’m the Shadow Chancellor and I’m working very hard on Labour’s first budget which we want to do to start to change Britain and we’re working really closely together. I was saying today what an impressive job he’s done, he was saying today in another interview that I’ve done an impressive job as well but when it comes to the making of the first cabinet, that’s what the leader does.

DM: Okay, let me ask you about his first choice as Shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson, who had to resign several years ago but he was campaigning during the course of last week and Mr Johnson said this, ‘Glad to see that the party of financial responsibility features very large’ in the launch of your manifesto last week but he said ‘there’s no sound bite to equal the claim that we maxed out on your credit card, we need to do more on that.’ Do you agree with that?

ED BALLS: Look, Alan Johnson has been one of the people who’s been saying we should spend a lot more time debating the Tories charges about the last government and saying that it was a global financial crisis, it wasn’t Labour spending which caused the crisis, the Tories matched our spending plans, it wasn’t nurses and doctors that caused Lehman Brothers to go bankrupt in New York, those are all arguments I’ve made. Alan Johnson is saying …

DM: That’s not a sound bite, is it? It doesn’t count with ‘don’t give the keys back to those that crashed the car’. Are you proud, Shadow Chancellor, are you proud of every penny you spent in government? If you said that, that might counter it.

ED BALLS: But look, Alan Johnson is saying I should spend more time with sound bites about the past, I understand that argument. I think what people want to know in this election is about the future so we say let’s have an economy which works for working people, that is what people want and it is about the future.

DM: But it’s about the policies you had with immigration, are you proud of every penny you spent while in government?

ED BALLS: Of course not, of course not. Every government spends some things really, really well, we did some fabulous things with the NHS, with the minimum wage, we didn’t join the Euro, we made the Bank of England independent on interest rates but of course there was some spending we didn’t get right, of course that’s the case but the global financial crisis wasn’t caused by Labour spending. The lie from the Tories has always been Labour spending caused the global financial crisis, Alan’s saying that is total nonsense and tosh, you know it’s rubbish, I know it’s rubbish but actually the British people know it’s rubbish too.

DM: Well one of the by-products of that financial crisis was the ownership by the British public of shares in some of our biggest banks including Lloyds, you know where I’m going here. It’s a good idea isn’t it to give some money back to the shareholders, to the British taxpayers who dug Lloyds out of a hole?

ED BALLS: I want Lloyds and RBS back in the private sector to get our money back, to get the national debt down, of course I do. Look, the frustration here …

DM: But what about selling shares to the public? Giving them at a discount?

ED BALLS: Of course the public should be buying the shares but the fact is, as you said a moment ago, David Cameron promised this before the last election. He’s announced it seven times and it has taken him a lot longer than he thought. He was saying a few years ago he wanted to have pre-election a discounted sale of RBS and I’m afraid RBS has not yet turned round …

DM: Well exactly, because they are waiting for the share price to get to a proper level, to get above the level at which the government bought into it.

ED BALLS: It’s been taking too long.

DM: Okay, we can argue that but is it a good idea to sell it back to the public at a discounted rate so that they make some of the profits?

ED BALLS: My starting point is this, I want to make sure that we maximise the long term benefit for the taxpayer and I want to make sure we get the money in…

DM: That means you want it in the Treasury.

ED BALLS: Well look, but if people buy the shares the money is coming to the Treasury so of course I want to maximise the reduction of the national debt and all that money will go to the national debt. When the Tories sold off the Royal Mail a few months ago they said the minimum purchase for a small shareholder was £750 and then they sold it at too low a price which meant that big institutional shareholders including I think George Osborne’s best man, made a total killing and the taxpayer got ripped off. Let’s make sure the taxpayer does not get ripped off again.

DM: But you’re not matching this offering, that there would be a discounted sale to the public?

ED BALLS: Look, I will look at the details of this and if the best way to make sure that small savers get a fair deal is to have a discount, that’s something I’m really happy to look at but I’m not going to do it by discounting the price at sale which ends up with a big rise in prices afterwards which means that the killing doesn’t go to the taxpayer and the national debt but it goes to big institutional investors. I hope David Cameron and George Osborne now admit they got the Royal Mail sale badly wrong and I promise you this, I will not short change the taxpayer on Lloyds and RBS.

DM: All right, we want more specifics from you, assuming you are going to be Chancellor if Labour win, more specifics. You are going to have an emergency budget, you’ve told us that, pretty soon after you get into power and in that budget you would instantly put up that high rate of tax to 50p. Would you also bring in the Mansion Tax in that same budget?

ED BALLS: Yes. We will have …

DM: You’d bring it right in then?

ED BALLS: We will have a budget this year, we’ve not set a timetable for that but I think we’d want to move more quickly, as quickly as we can because we want to scrap the bedroom tax in our first budget, we want to bring in the bank bonus tax to get young people back to work, we want to cut business rates for small companies and increase child care. We’ll put the top rate of income tax back up to 50% for people earning over £150,000 and I said to the Treasury, I want them to be ready so that we can move in the first budget to legislate for and introduce the Mansion Tax on properties over £2 million.

DM: What about valuations?

ED BALLS: Well the thing which we will look at straight after the election is what timetable we can do and I will get the expert advice from HMRC and from the Treasury but I believe that we will be able to introduce this on the basis of valuations in this financial year, that’s my commitment, that’s my aim and that’s what I want to do.

DM: Okay and we know no movement on a wide variety of taxes, on VAT, national insurance and basic rates of tax, what about corporation tax, you haven’t ruled out putting that up have you?

ED BALLS: Well what we’re not going to do is the next cut.

DM: No, but would you put it up?

ED BALLS: When we were in government we reduced the rate from 33 to 28, the Tories have come down from 28 to 21, we’ve supported those cuts. We’re not going to do the next cut from 21 down to 20, instead we’re going to use that money to cut business rates, to cut and freeze business rates for 1.5 million small business properties.

DM: But you have been explicit, haven’t you, about things like VAT and basic rate tax, are you going to be explicit about corporation tax, that it will stay at 21% or could it go higher?

ED BALLS: I’ve made a commitment which is that we will keep the corporation tax rate, the main one, at the lowest level of any of the big G7 countries …

DM: And there is the wriggle room because we know that Canada, the next lowest, is on 26.5%, so you could put it up to 24 or 25 pence.

ED BALLS: But as I’ve said, I’ve supported the cuts from 28 down to 21 and my plan is not to do the next one and to do that for small business rates. Now the thing which we need in this recovery, look, at the moment our business investment performance is weak, our exporting performance is weak, businesses are really worried about Europe. We need to make sure that we back businesses and start investing for the future, the last thing that I want to do is start deterring that investment by hiking up corporation tax so therefore that is not something that I have made any commitment to do at all, we will keep our rates low.

DM: Okay and one other specific on that first budget, HS2, you would commit to that?

ED BALLS: Well at the moment there is a piece of legislation for HS2 first phase which I think has probably got another 18 months still to go in parliament. The second phase of HS2 is not even yet on the drawing board in terms of legislation. We have supported HS2, we need to make sure though that the costs are under control, there is no blank cheque from me and we will make sure in the second phase that we actually get a route which really serves our economy in the best possible way. George Osborne has said don’t do the east/west links until after you’ve done HS2, now I don’t want to delay the second phase but I don’t see why we should wait to link up Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester for 20 years, that is ridiculous. I want to do that more quickly and on HS2 I think George Osborne has not been doing his job, he should get a grip on the costs. He is supposed to be the Chancellor, it is going to take me to come in to bang the table and say get a grip on the cost of this project.

DM: Well Nicola Sturgeon, of course we know the SNP, she says she is going to have a role in writing a Labour budget if they are supporting you in some way. Is it an absolute firewall between what you and Ed Miliband write in the budget and any SNP involvement? If they say this is too austere, we’re not supporting these cuts in this budget you’d just say go away?

ED BALLS: Absolutely 100% total firewall. As Ed Miliband said a couple of weeks ago, which in a way answers your question from three minutes ago, the first budget will be written by Ed Miliband and me and not by Nicola Sturgeon or Nigel Farage or anyone else. That’s what we are going to do, we’ve got a clear programme, we’ll cut the deficit every year and look, we’ve been very clear. It’s interesting today isn’t it, we’ve got Ed Miliband and me being asked questions about the SNP, we’ve got David Cameron being asked questions about UKIP. I can say to you unambiguously, no coalition with the SNP at all. David Cameron this morning is asked time and again, will he rule out a coalition with UKIP and he can’t answer the question because we know what’s really going on in …

DM: What about a vote by vote deal with the SNP or coalition with the Lib Dems?

ED BALLS: Look, the last thing we’re going to do … well first of all we are fighting for a majority and to start getting into speculation about what’s going to happen with the Lib Dems or whatever …

DM: You just absolutely ruled out a coalition with the SNP, would you absolutely rule out a coalition with the Lib Dems?

ED BALLS: Look, we’re fighting for a majority and we’re not going …

DM: Well you’re not.

ED BALLS: Of course we’re fighting for a majority.

DM: No, you’re not ruling out a coalition with the Lib Dems.

ED BALLS: No, look, what I’m saying to you is you have to deal with what the electorate gives you and therefore if the electorate has a hung parliament with Labour or the Conservatives not the largest party, we have to find a way in which we govern the country but you also have got to have some principles within that and our principle is very clear. The SNP exists, unlike the Liberal Democrats or to be fair UKIP, the SNP exist as a political party to break up the United Kingdom, that’s their raison d’etre, that’s what they’re for.

DM: And destroy the Labour party in Scotland.

ED BALLS: Well I don’t think they exist to do that, they exist to break up the United Kingdom. I can say to you unambiguously we’re not going to start getting involved in coalitions or deals with a political party which wants to break up the United Kingdom. David Cameron though, is he really going to say the same thing? I think the desperation here, Cameron is obviously now so desperate, it’s not gone to plan, he’s not leading in the polls, he’s flailing out in all directions. Why is he so energetically going on about the SNP? Because one, he worries he is going to fail and secondly, what he actually thinks is he is going to end up with a coalition after the election with UKIP and actually possible, Dermot, with the SNP. David Cameron would love to do a deal with the SNP, that’s what I’ve been saying.

DM: Really? Okay, well I’ll explore that with the Culture Secretary …

ED BALLS: You should but the fact is Dermot …

DM: Last question for you, we are running out of time …

ED BALLS: The SNP want the Tories in and the Tories want the SNP to do well, they’re in bed together.

DM: Okay, on the NHS, we’ve been hearing from Andy Burnham, your Health Spokesman, the Shadow Health Secretary, saying that somehow you have come up with the idea that the Conservatives have got secret plans, you’ve seen them, to cut 2000 nurses from the NHS.

ED BALLS: Well these are from the NHS’s own workforce plans which Andy has researched and has revealed today. The head of the NHS was saying least week that we’re in an immediate crisis now, the Tories are saying more money in four years’ time, they can’t say where it’s going to come from. David Cameron tried to say it was in his figures, that is untrue. There is nothing in the Tory plans at all, they have got billions of pounds of commitments which they can’t say how they’ll pay for – we’ve been very clear, £2.5 billion a year for the National Health Service – because in the next two years or three years, on the current plans, 2000 fewer nurses than now. Now if you want to have fewer nurses, the NHS going backwards and take a gamble on David Cameron who wants to privatise the NHS, fine. I think that would be to betray our National Health Service and we’ve got a better plan, a rescue plan right now for the NHS.

DM: Mr Balls, thank you very much indeed. Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls there.

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Posted April 20th, 2015 by Ed's team