Alistair Darling: 'Ed Miliband must keep Labour central'

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Indy Politics

Ed Miliband needs to keep Labour in the "centre ground of British politics" to win the next election, shadow chancellor Alistair Darling said today

In what was probably his last major speech to a Labour Party conference, he called for the party to be "credible and confident" to regain the public's trust.

Mr Darling, who is not standing in the shadow cabinet election, attacked the Government for a "dishonest" approach to public spending cuts.

"Their approach is the same old right wing ideology dressed up as necessity. Their approach is dishonest," he said.

The shadow chancellor praised Ed Miliband, who has hinted he may depart from the deficit reduction plan set out by Mr Darling in government, as a leader with the "determination, the ability, and the commitment to win back the trust and support we need from the people of this country.

"He knows what needs to be done."

In a message to the party Mr Darling said: "We cannot ignore the deficit. That would be as foolish as standing back and doing nothing when the crisis hit.

"We had in place tough plans to halve borrowing within four years.

"But don't let anyone tell you there is no difference between us and this coalition Government.

"We never have been, and never will be, the same.

"The Tories are using the need to reduce borrowing as a way of dismantling the support millions depend on. This is not new politics. It is very old politics.

"And the approach they have chosen - and it is a choice - is a huge gamble with growth and jobs.

"For ideological reasons, they are putting at serious risk the recovery we worked so hard to bring about. We have to expose the gamble they're taking.

"Our approach is measured - and balanced. What we did over the last two years has worked. That's why our economy is growing, why borrowing is coming down.

"To abandon that balanced approach, as the Tories and Liberals are doing, will put tens of thousands of jobs at risk, and hit the living standards of millions of families in this country.

"But as Ed has said on Saturday, if we set out a credible plan, with conviction and confidence, we can win back the trust and support we lost in May."

In a plea to the party to avoid a lurch to the left Mr Darling said: "We need to stay in the centre ground of British politics. We must be credible and confident to regain the people's trust.

"And with Ed as leader we will do that."

Mr Darling, who was given a standing ovation, said the Lib Dems were "mere window dressing" for the Conservatives and had done "nothing to soften the Tory stance".

He criticised Business Secretary Vince Cable, telling the conference: "As a keen ballroom fan he should know that even the niftiest dancer can't face both ways at once.

"To hear him talk you'd think that one day he was in Government, the next day out of it. It's real political hokey cokey."

Mr Darling insisted Labour had been right in allowing borrowing to soar in an effort to protect jobs and homes during the economic crisis despite opposition from the Tories.

"History will show we were right and they were wrong," he said.

Mr Darling warned that the coalition's plans to cut public spending could tip the economy back into recession.

Answering delegates' questions he acknowledged that it was "essential" to reduce borrowing in order to lower the cost of servicing debt.

But he said: "The critical thing is to do it at a rate where you don't damage the economic or social fabric of the country.

"The risk the Tories are taking is you go too far, too fast. They are doing it for ideological reasons, there is no necessity to do this."

He said: "Ireland has made huge cutbacks in expenditure, they put up taxes and guess what? They're back in recession and people are now worrying whether or not the Irish government have got the capacity to service its debt.

"That's what happens when you go too fast and you take too much money out of the economy.

"That is the risk that the present Government is now taking."

Mr Darling said it was now "blindingly obvious" that Chancellor George Osborne's Budget would place the largest burden on people on lower incomes.

"The Liberals, far from moderating what the Conservatives are doing, are actually being used as an excuse by the Tories to go further and faster than they ever are able to do on their own," he said.

"Because they say to people 'How could it be unfair? The Liberal Democrats agree with us.'

"The Liberals really have been duped into selling something that is really old-fashioned Tory ideology."

But he told activists that Labour could not just ignore the deficit.

"People know there is a deficit, they know it needs to come down - and if you deny that, frankly, people will not listen to you, they will walk away and it will have a disastrous consequence," he said.

"I'm sorry but you have to be realistic about these things otherwise it simply won't wash.

"It doesn't mean that you do the same thing as the Tories or the Liberals... our approach is distinct, it's different. But for goodness' sake, if we've learnt anything from the last 20 years, you've got to be realistic."