Ed Balls's response to the Autumn Statement: full text

"We know they’re not very good at shooting badgers...they're not very good at shooting other people’s foxes either."

Mr Speaker,

The whole country will have seen today that, for all his boasts and utterly breathtaking complacency, the Chancellor is in complete denial about the central fact which is defining this Government’s time in office.

That under this Chancellor and this Prime Minister, for most people in our country, living standards are not rising, they are falling year on year.

So Mr Speaker, let me ask the Chancellor to demonstrate that he’s not completely out of touch with the cost of living crisis facing millions of people in our country.

Can he confirm that on average working people in our country are £1600 a year worse off than they were when he and the Prime Minister took office?

And that today’s OBR forecasts show that prices will continue to rise faster than wages this year and into next year too?

And that, as a result, people will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010?

Mr Speaker, isn’t this the truth – after three damaging years of flatlining, after the slowest recovery for over 100 years, from a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who said ‘we’re all in this together’ and then gave a huge tax cut to millionaires – working people aren’t better off under the Tories, they are worse off under the Tories.

And Mr Speaker, for all their complacent boasts, after three damaging and wasted years, for most people - in the constituencies of honourable members on all sides of this House - there is still no recovery at all.

So let me ask the Chancellor about the promises he made to this House on growth and living standards three years ago.

He said then that the economy would grow by more than 8.4 per cent by the end of this year.

But even after today's welcome upward revisions, growth is set to be half of that.

And Mr Speaker, didn’t the Chancellor pledge to get the banks lending – but net lending to businesses is now over £100 billion lower than in May 2010?

Didn’t he make the number one test of his economic credibility keeping the AAA credit rating – but it has been downgraded, not once but twice?

And as for his promise to balance the books by 2015, didn’t he confirm today that, in 2015, he is not balancing the books, he is borrowing £79 billion?

For all his smoke and mirrors he is borrowing £198 billion more than he planned in 2010.

More borrowing to pay for three years of economic failure. More borrowing in just three years under this Chancellor than under the last government in 13 years.

He used to say he would balance the books in 2015. Now he expects us to congratulate him for saying he’ll do it by 2019.

With this Government it’s clearly not just the badgers that move the goalposts.

And on energy bills, after their panicked and half-baked attempt to steal Labour’s clothes, we know they’re not very good at shooting badgers...they're not very good at shooting other people’s foxes either.

Because for three months the Leader of the Opposition has been calling for an energy price freeze.

And did the Chancellor announce an energy price freeze today? No he did not.

Can he confirm that when the energy companies have already announced price rises of £120 this year, his policy will still see energy prices rise by £70 this winter?

Mr Speaker, under this Chancellor, the only freeze this winter is the one facing millions of people who can’t afford to heat their homes.

Does he really think he can get away with tinkering around the edges? Moving the green levies that his own party introduced off the bills and onto the taxpayer and - surprise, surprise - letting the energy companies completely off the hook. They’re not paying a penny, Mr Speaker.

Doesn’t he realise that for millions of hard-pressed families, pensioners and businesses across our country, nothing less than a freeze will do?

And rather than hard-pressed taxpayers, it should be the excess profits of the energy companies that pick up the tab?

And as for the Prime Minister’s flagship policy for families of a tax break for marriage.

Why won’t the Chancellor admit the truth and tell the Prime Minister that this policy won’t even help the families he claims it will?

Because his own Treasury Minister has finally let the cat out of the bag.

I have it here in black and white. The Exchequer Secretary says “just under one-third of… married couples” will get the married couples tax allowance. And just one in six families with children will benefit.

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s claim in this House a few weeks ago, a married couple where both are paying basic rate income tax will get no benefit at all.

No wonder, Mr Speaker, his own Chancellor has this week told the Daily Telegraph that he thinks the Prime Minister’s policy is, and I quote, ‘a turkey of an idea’?

A turkey! The Chancellor thinks the Prime Minister’s flagship policy is a turkey. Merry Christmas, Prime Minister, Merry Christmas.

On this one I think the Chancellor’s right – the Prime Minister’s policy is a turkey of an idea.

I have to say, Mr Speaker, on the cost of living crisis and energy, and on supporting families, this Government just doesn’t get it.

And there’s a reason why this Prime Minister and this Chancellor are so out of touch that they believe most people are better off: it’s because the people on their Christmas card list have seen their bonuses rise and their taxes cut this year?

We have a Prime Minister and Chancellor who will stand up for the energy companies, they’ll stand up for the hedge funds, they’ll stand up for people earning over £150,000 – who get a tax cut.

But they won’t stand up for the millions of families and pensioners in our country, people struggling with rising energy bills, falling wages and higher childcare costs.

We all know and agree that rising life expectancy means we are going to have to work longer and that the Chancellor’s failure on growth and the deficit over the last three years means more tough spending decisions to come in the next Parliament.

But when the country is crying out for a government that will work with business to promote investment and wealth creation and build an economy that works for the many and not just the few does this Chancellor really think he can get away with tinkering at the edges, let the free market rip and wait for wealth to trickle down?

Mr Speaker, isn’t what the Chancellor has announced today the clearest evidence yet that they just don’t understand the scale of the challenge we face if we are to secure an investment-led recovery that works for all and not just a few – a strong recovery that’s built to last?

So let me ask the Chancellor, with housebuilding under this Government at its lowest level since the 1920s, doesn’t he see: his Help to Buy scheme to boost mortgage demand can only deliver a strong and balanced recovery if - as we and the IMF have urged - he matches it with more supply by building more affordable homes?

And can he tell the House why has infrastructure output actually fallen by 15 per cent since 2010? No wonder the CBI is upset.

On investment, why hasn’t he used the money from the planned increase in spectrum licence fees to endow a proper Business Investment Bank?

On tax avoidance, can he tell the House why has HMRC reported that the amount of uncollected tax rose last year?

And with almost one million young people now unemployed, a record number of people who want to work full-time being forced to accept part-time work, the work programme a flop, the welfare bill rising, and, as we learned today, the Universal Credit in complete and utter chaos.

No mention of Universal Credit in the statement. IDS: In Deep.. Shambles.

Isn’t the fact Mr Speaker, for all the shambles and chaos and rising welfare bills, what he has announced on youth unemployment is too little too late?

Help only for the under 21s only happening in the last weeks of this government in 2015.

Why isn't he being more ambitious? Why won't he repeat the successful tax on bank bonuses to pay for a compulsory job for young people – a job they’ll have to take or lose benefit?

Why won’t he remove the winter allowance from the richest 5 per cent of pensioners?

And why won’t he reverse his tax cut for hedge funds and protect disabled people in our country by scrapping the unfair and perverse bedroom tax?

Why won't he go further on the Bank Levy to expand free childcare for working parents and make work pay?

Can he confirm that, even after what he has announced today on fuel duty and his increases in the personal allowance his VAT rise, his cuts to tax credits and cuts to child benefit mean that on average families with children are worse off because of this Chancellor’s budgets. That's the truth Mr Speaker.

Giving with one hand, taking away much more with the other.

Mr Speaker, energy bills still rising this winter, no real action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, no proper plan to earn our way to rising living standards for all and not just a few. Surely Britain can do better than this?

This complacent Chancellor sits there and thinks he deserves a pat on the back. I have to say, with bank bonuses rising again and millionaires enjoying a big tax cut, this is a policy which is working for a few.

But, as this Autumn Statement shows, with this out of touch Chancellor and Prime Minister, hard-working people are worse off under the Tories.

Ed Balls speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.