Ed BALLS yesterday insisted Labour is not anti-business in the face of a backlash from Conservatives and business leaders over his plans to re-introduce a 50p top rate of tax.
The shadow chancellor also revealed he was “proud” of the Labour government’s public spending as he defended its record prior to the 2007-8 financial crash.
Labour is pledging to reverse the income tax cut introduced by the coalition for Britain’s highest earners as it draws up plans to balance the books if it takes power after the 2015 general election.
The move has proved popular with voters, but business leaders have warned it would put the economic recovery at risk.
Mr Balls said: “We are a pro-business party. This is not an anti-business agenda but it’s an anti-business as usual agenda.”
He ruled out any additional increase in the top rate under Labour but refused to give any outline of what proportion of his deficit reduction plan overall would come from tax rises compared to public spending cuts.
“It’s absolutely not back to the 1980s or the 1990s,” he added. “I was part of a government which did very many things to open up markets, make the Bank of England independent, to work closely with business but, the reality is we are in very difficult circumstances and because, if I’m honest with you, George Osborne’s failure in the last few years, those difficult circumstances will now last well into the next parliament.”
Pressed on whether Labour should apologise for its level of public spending in government, Mr Balls said: “We didn’t spend every pound of public money well but, to be honest, I’m really proud of what we did in our investment in the National Health Service, I’m really proud of the improvement in standards in schools, the extra police on the streets, what we did to tackle anti-social behaviour.”
Asked if he would do it again, Mr Balls said: “There would be some spending things we wouldn’t do, some spending things we would do differently, some areas where we would spend more. “But do I think the level of public spending going into the crisis was a problem for Britain? No, I don’t.”
Mr Balls said although Labour was planning to strip wealthier pensioners of winter fuel payments, it would not axe free bus passes or television licences.
Foreign Secretary William Hague criticised Mr Balls’ proposal, saying he believes the shadow chancellor is sending the wrong signal about Britain.
He said: “I see as Foreign Secretary every day the rest of the world now seeing Britain with falling unemployment, with low inflation, with a real return of economic confidence, the long-term economic plan of this government is working.
“Ed Balls is sending the signal that if there was a Labour government, we would go back to high taxing, high borrowing, high spending, and that is an anti-business, anti-job creation agenda.”
Alistair Darling, MP for Edinburgh South West who introduced the 50p rate when he was chancellor, yesterday said: “It’s part of the deficit reduction plan that he [Mr Balls] set out.
“In relation to the timing, you can always argue about this but I think Ed Balls is quite right; this is the last full year before the general election, to lay out proposals here in relation to deficit reduction and you have to see this tax in that context.
“Also other measures in relation to supporting business and getting growth going, the business investment bank rates and so on. We are about 15 months away from a general election and I think this is absolutely the right time to do it.”
Sajid Javid, financial secretary to the Treasury, said: “Labour got us into a mess by spending and borrowing too much in the good years – they entered the crisis with the biggest structural deficit in the G7.
“But Ed Balls thinks the deficit was not ‘too high’ at the time, and says he would do it all over again. It’s the same old Labour. All they offer is more spending, more borrowing and more taxes. That would put the recovery and jobs at risk. Our country and hardworking people would pay the price with a less financially secure future.”