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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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war