Ed Balls twice hitched a lift in Lord Black's jet

Double blow to Labour hopeful as trips with peer return to haunt him and union backs Ed Miliband

Ed Balls's campaign for the Labour leadership was dealt a double blow last night after it emerged that he had accepted hospitality from the notorious former media tycoon Lord Black.

The former education secretary, who has criticised Tory opponents for "private jet-setting and helicopter hops", confessed that he had twice flown as a guest in the peer's private jet after both had attended meetings of the shadowy international organisation the Bilderberg Group.

Mr Balls's involvement with the Bilderberg Group, a secretive collection of influential politicians and businessmen, opens him to charges of elitism at a time when he is attempting to persuade almost 170,000 Labour Party members to elect him as their next leader. It emerged yesterday that the huge union Unite had overwhelmingly decided to endorse his rival, Ed Miliband.

But the revelation that he had accepted Lord Black's hospitality, on a flight from Sweden to the UK in 2001 and home from Paris in 2003, is an embarrassing development, as it links Mr Balls directly to one of the most controversial businessmen of recent times.

Lord Black was released from a Florida prison on Wednesday, pending an appeal against his conviction for fraud and obstructing justice. He was convicted in 2007 of defrauding investors of $6.1m by paying himself a tax-free bonus from the sale of newspaper assets without the approval of the board of Hollinger International. He has always denied any wrongdoing.

The trips also sit uncomfortably with Mr Balls's condemnation of senior Tories including David Cameron, three years ago, for their "jet-set lifestyles". He ridiculed claims that the environmental impact of their flights in private aircraft was reduced by carbon-offsetting.

Mr Balls last night attempted to play down the significance of the revelation, claiming it was "ancient history" and insisting he had declared the trips to his then boss at the Treasury. He said the two men had discussed Lord Black's book on US President Franklin D Roosevelt during one of the trips.

The failure to win Unite's backing is a serious blow to Mr Balls's campaign, as he has now received the support of only one of the "Big Four" unions, while three have endorsed Ed Miliband, the other "leftist" Brownite candidate in the contest. Officials voted 24 to Ed Miliband, four each to Mr Balls and Andy Burnham, and one each to David Miliband and Diane Abbott.

Mr Balls's flights in Lord Black's private jet took place after the Bilderberg meetings in Stenungsbaden, Sweden, in 2001, and in Versailles, Paris, in 2003, in both cases before he became an MP. At the time, Mr Balls was working with his close ally Gordon Brown as chief economic adviser to the Treasury, a powerful unelected role that earned him the nickname "deputy chancellor".

The Bilderberg Group holds an annual conference of politicians, financiers and businessmen. It was originally proposed as an opportunity for European and US leaders to come together with the aim of promoting "Atlanticism". A number of British politicians, including Lord Healey, Lord Carrington and Lord Mandelson, have attended meetings. But the group has been consistently criticised over its secrecy and elitism.

Three years ago, during a parliamentary debate on aviation duties when he was a Treasury minister, Mr Balls criticised Mr Cameron for "lecturing the rest of us about things that clearly do not apply to him and his jet-set lifestyle".

He added: "Only yesterday, we learned more about his private jet-setting and helicopter hops, which included a 20-mile trip one month and a 30-mile trip the next. What signal does that send? It is like the signal of riding a bike to work while the chauffeur is driving behind with the shirt and shoes in the boot. The signal is that [Mr Cameron's] gestures and stance are not backed by substance."

The flight back from Sweden amounted to more than 650 miles, while the trip from Paris two years later was over 210 miles.

"I don't know why this ancient history is being dragged up now," said Mr Balls last night. "I did get a lift back with Mr Black from the meeting in France in 2003 and Sweden in 2001, when I was chief economic adviser to the Treasury.

"It saved the taxpayer the cost of a plane fare and on both occasions I declared it at the time to the permanent secretary in the normal way."

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little