Heads up: Top comment and controversy

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

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?"

React Now

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?