Ed Balls wields a rather vague axe. Photo: Getty
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Ed Balls: We will cut every year until the deficit is down

As Labour confronts the deficit problem today, the shadow chancellor warns his shadow cabinet colleagues that they will make cuts every year.

It's the moment the Labour party has been trying to avoid: addressing the deficit. And its reluctance is little wonder considering it is jumped upon by the right every time it suggests a tax rise or a whiff of an unfunded spending commitment, and by the left when it discusses continuing the government's austerity project.

However, today is the day that Ed Miliband will address the deficit problem and explain how his party would tackle it if it is voted into government next year. George analyses what Miliband is expected to say today about cutting the deficit, and reports that there will be new announcements in the speech. However, whether these will include protecting public services or plans for cuts is another story.

It is clear Labour is holding something back, and not just until Miliband speaks today. The shadow chancellor Ed Balls, interviewed on the BBC's Today programme this morning, would not answer the question about when he would like to balance the books by, insisting that such answers are impossible to give until tax revenues are in and give a better idea of how much money there is (George Osborne was disappointed on tax receipts when delivering his Autumn Statement last week).

This shows Labour's reluctance to make the same mistake as Osborne and set itself up for missing a target, and therefore being vulnerable to a hammering from its political opponents. While it is wise to learn from the Chancellor's missed target, the Labour party does sound like it is prevaricating over the subject that it has so vocally decided to face head-on: balancing the books. There is the argument that it is even unnecessary for the party to devote a whole speech to this subject at all, considering the deficit is the way in which the Conservatives frame the economic debate, and are still more trusted by the public with fixing it.

However, in a harsher and more specific message, Balls also reiterated on Today his warning to shadow cabinet colleagues (aside from the shadow health and international development secretaries) that their departments, if they make it to government, will have to cut every single year until the deficit has been eliminated:

You should be planning on the basis that your departmental budgets will be cut not only in 2015/16, but each year until we have achieved our promise to balance the books.

Labour's biggest challenge will be to tell us what those cuts would include, and how deep they would be. As Labour has taken the risky decision to directly tackle the deficit question, it's time for Balls to sharpen the rather vague axe he is wielding.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.