Ed Balls: You Ask The Questions

Did Gordon Brown have doubts about Iraq? And what are Tony Blair's flaws?
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What are the real differences between the Blairites and the Brownites? Is it just a big old grudge match that nobody can remember the cause of? Gareth Allen, Lincolnshire

Everyone knows there have been differences between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but those who try to turn this into a broader political or ideological schism in the Labour party are wrong and make a big mistake.

You will be there giving Gordon Brown a standing ovation when he speaks to Labour's conference, no doubt. Will you be back the next day to give another one, for Tony Blair? Jeremy O' Hagan, Crouch End

Yes - as always.

Why should people be more inclined to vote Labour under Gordon Brown when he has voted for all the policies that have made Tony Blair so unpopular? What's the difference between their politics? Tim Lawley, Manchester

That's for Gordon Brown to set out if he becomes party leader, but after nine years in power there are bound to be changes in style and approach. There are also new challenges to respond to. But on the fundamentals like making sure there is a strong economy combined with social justice at home and a passion to fight poverty in the developing world, there is no difference.

Who called Gordon "psychologically flawed"? Were they right? And what are Tony Blair's flaws in your opinion? Simon Karacs, London

I have no idea. It must have been someone who doesn't really know him. None of us are perfect - including Tony - and that's what makes us human.

Do you rely on post neoclassical endogenous growth theory when considering, for instance, whether sterling should enter the single currency? Or do you just find it comes it handy in Tesco? J Dickson, Sheffield

This hideous techy phrase means government policy on things like skills, innovation, competition - or joining the Euro - can make a long term difference to how fast the economy grows - or good or ill. So on the Euro? Yes. In Tesco? not really.

Was Michael Heseltine right to allude in 1994 to the fact that the theory was not all Browns but all Balls? Sean O Toole, Hants

It certainly worked for him - it was easily the best joke I've heard at a Tory Conference.

Are you and your wife going to fight over who keeps the Commons seat? Or are you, perhaps, the future Lords Balls? Najib Shah, by e mail

No - and certainly not.

Who does the housework, you or Yvette? Trevor Knightley, Doncaster

Yvette sorts out the kids and makes sure our childcare arrangements don't fall apart on a daily basis. I do the shopping and cooking and seem to spend a lot of time picking up wet towels and kid's toys.

Why did you support the war in Iraq? Anna Maxwell, Brussels

I have said before that on the basis of the information available at the time about WMD, I would have voted for military action.

Did Gordon Brown privately have doubts about the Iraq War? Jamie Simpson, London

Gordon Brown has always said publicly that he backed the Prime Minister on Iraq and he has never said anything different to me in private.

You have suggested that Tony Blair mishandled some of the Iraq affair. How? Eibhlin Fitzgerald, Belfast

Like many others, I have said that all of us need to learn lessons - not least about the use of intelligence information. I wish more time had been spent trying to get support in the UN for a second resolution. And clearly the planning for Iraqi reconstruction was not good enough.

Gordon Brown's strategy has been to increase vastly the amount of tax taken from hard working people. He has stolen billions from peoples' pension funds and augmented the flow of taxpayers money paid to the likes of Capita, EDS, Accenture for administering computer systems which don't work (e.g. CSA)). Were the above his ideas or do you claim some credit? Richard Clarke by e mail

So, on balance, you're not a government supporter then! The one charge I would accept is that this government, like all previous governments and most of the private sector too, has not had a good experience with procuring large computer projects.

Do you agree that economic growth means necessarily an ever-increasing level of consumption of the physical resources of this planet, and, if not, how do you define economic growth? Philip Morgan, Cardiff

Actually, I think we can create more skilled jobs and make our economy stronger by investing in new environmental technologies and demanding we cut carbon emissions. At the same time, the only way to tackle climate change is through economic measures, like the Climate Change Levy, that ensure polluters bear the full cost of any emissions. That's the way to get economic growth without environmental damage.

You were central in setting out the new role for the Bank of England. Since then, the Bank has notably failed to stop the growth of a huge housing bubble - are you worried that this now threatens to tarnish your legacy? Matthew Griffith, London

In the early 1990s we saw soaring interest rates and tens of thousands of families lost their homes. But over the last 18 months, the Bank has pulled off the best managed housing slowdown I've seen in my lifetime. So credit where credit's due.

Is it true that Gordon Brown was initially far more reluctant than Tony Blair to make the Bank of England independent? Peter Brakus, Ashford

No and I've never heard anybody seriously suggest that.

As a backbencher, you proposed a Private Members Bill to improve services for families with disabled children. What are you doing to support disabled children now that you're a Treasury minister? Jane Keating, Beckenham

One of the first things I did when I became a Treasury Minister was to launch a public review of services for disabled children as part of the comprehensive spending review. We can't be serious about tackling child poverty without doing more for these families. I'm speaking at the launch of the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign in Manchester tomorrow.

Ê Whenever I see you on TV you look ill at ease. Are you planning to undergo any media training? Eva Hegarty, Richmond

Thanks Eva! TV's really tough. Like public speaking, it's one of those things where you get better with practice.

Why have New Labour spent half their time cosying up to business people who are probably never going to vote for it anyway? Freya Dawkins, Bath

In my constituency we need more skilled jobs and that requires more businesses to invest in our area - not elsewhere or overseas. Local voters, local trade unionists and our local council all want me to talk to business.

Why doesn't the government introduce a flat rate of taxation as seen in many eastern European countries, thus reducing the incentive for tax evasion? Laurence Campbell, Edinburgh

Ê A flat tax would either mean a massive tax rise for people on low and middle incomes to pay for tax cuts at the top or cost us billions of pounds in public service cuts. As George Osborne has discovered, it's an idea that doesn't stand much scrutiny.

What do you think about the prohibitive cost of housing and the huge wealth gulf it's created? And why the governments only answer is ridiculous shared ownership schemes which boost house prices and make the problem even worse? Simon Johnson by e mail

Ê The housing minister (and dropper of wet towels) says the only way to deal with long term house prices is to build far more homes for the next generation. But in the meantime it's only fair to help first time buyers get a foot on the housing ladder.

Ê Which Tory MP would you be stuck on a desert island with if you really had to be? Yvonne Rena, High Wycombe

Ê I fear that after 48 hours Boris would be driving me up the wall (or up a tree) so I think IÕd choose Ken Clarke who is a politician I admire.

Why are you attempting to restrict the purchase of Alternatively Secured Pensions (ASPs) to religious minorities? Isn't that discriminatory to the rest of us, and a U-turn? Darren McLauchlan, Cirencester

ItÕs not a u-turn, it's what my predecessors in this job said when ASPs were first introduced.

Have you ever considered changing your surname? Guy Taylor, by e mail

Frequently! But it's part of who I am.

Like me, you are one of the people who can't answer the telephone in that imperious way by stating your surname (eg "Rockford !" or " Brown !"). Has this affected your career and made you a stronger person, like the boy named Sue? Colin Burke, Manchester

Yes, I think it probably has. But if you think it's bad for me, think how much worse it's been for my sister Ophelia.

How do you and your wife - being both MPs - ever get time to see your three children? Sarah Davis, by email

ItÕs tough, like it is for lots of working parents. But we don't work nights, we take them to school every day and we try to keep the weekends free as much as we can.

In view of the UK being £1.3 trillion in debt, do you and Gordon now regret blindly following Greenspan's excessive liquidity and selling 60% of the UK's gold at a historical low? And will Brown be able to prolong the housing bubble for long enough to blame the bursting on Chancellor Balls? Tom Pinder, by email

Our national debt is historically and comparatively low and our foreign exchange reserves have been well managed. On your last point, I don't know which premise to question first.

With the current UK real rate of interest at less than 2%, what level do you think is consistent with the so called neutral rate of interest? Jon Greenwood, by email

Fortunately these days interest rates are a matter for the Bank of England and not for me.

Is being an MP really better than being a senior, all-powerful adviser? Don't tell me you don't get bored having to deal with real people? Sam Lockwood, Cambridge

The constituency side of the job keeps your feet firmly on the ground and when you make a difference to people's lives it is very rewarding. ThereÕs never time to get bored.

When you worked at the Treasury, did you have nightmares about another Black Wednesday? David Arnott, Clapham

No. I think you should address that one to David Cameron.

Do you find David Cameron as annoying as me? P Morley, by email

I donÕt know you.

How can you possibly justify the Private Finance Initiative? Nina Scott, Oxford

The short answer is that it ensures public sector projects are on time and on budget - it's proved a much better way to bind the private sector into long-term contracts and stop large companies doing what they did in the past and ripping off the taxpayer by building hospitals and schools which are late, shoddy and over-budget

Was it your influence over Gordon Brown that led him to suddenly develop a keen interest in the Arctic Monkeys? And what is the last piece of music you downloaded? Debra Tanner, Glasgow

No - and I am ashamed to admit that I am still at the stage of putting CDs on my ipod. Downloading is the next frontier.

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