Ed Balls speech at the Labour Conference: Key points and reaction, from HS2 to family care


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The Independent Online

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who will be interviewed by our political columnist Steve Richards this afternoon, addressed the Labour party conference in Brighton this morning. Here are some of the key points from the speech, alongside the media response

1. HS2? Not so fast

Balls questioned the case for the new high speed rail line from London to Birmingham, calling the approach of David Cameron and George Osborne "irresponsible", after news that the cost of the project had spiralled to around £50 bn.

He said: "Let me be clear, in tough times - when there is less money around a big deficit to get down - there will be no blank cheque from me as a Labour Chancellor for this project or for any project"

George Eaton, editor of the New Statesman's Staggers political blog, noted that "many in Labour would like to transfer funds from HS2 to a mass housebuilding programme. It would allow the party to differentiate itself from the Tories while remaining within George Osborne's fiscal envelope.

"Today, Balls made it clear that he is sympathetic to their demands".

2. GDP on the up, but living standards aren't

The Shadow Chancellor drove home an attack on the Conservative record over living standards.

"Let me remind the Tories", he said "prices rising faster than wages for 38 out of the 39 months since David Cameron entered Downing Street."

Writing on the Spectator's Coffee House blog, Fraser Nelson said "it's not good conservatives dismissing the message because they loathe the messenger."

"Real salaries are low, and getting lower", he added.

3. Making more time for family care

The next general election looks likely to run on themes of women voters and young families, as Balls followed the Lib Dem's promise of universal free school meals for primary school pupils with a pledge to offer 10 more hours of free childcare a week, with the £800m cost raised by a higher levy on banks.

The chief executive of Early Education, Beatrice Merrick, told the BBC: "The devil may be in the detail with this.

"Will the choice of hours be led by supply or demand? Will parents be able to choose whether to spread the entitlement over three days or five or will providers offer what suits them? Will it be straightforward for parents to split their entitlement between a nursery place and a childminder to match the hours they need?"