UK Politics

Balls: Labour must fight cuts 'every inch of the way'

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Media captionEd Balls tells Michael Gove to 'think again' on school repairs

Shadow education secretary Ed Balls has urged Labour to fight proposed government spending cuts "every inch of the way".

He told the Labour conference there was an alternative to the coalition's "reckless" economic policy.

He praised the way that new leader Ed Miliband had already "energised and inspired" the party.

Mr Balls came third in the Labour leadership contest and has been tipped by some to be shadow chancellor.

However, his call for Labour to adopt a slower approach to tackling the deficit than was agreed when they were in government has alarmed some within the party.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has backed the coalition's plans for eliminating the bulk of the structural deficit within five years, saying it had led to an increase in economic confidence.

Win argument

Addressing delegates, Mr Balls defended Labour's record in office - attacked by Ed Miliband in his leader's speech on Tuesday - saying that although it had not got everything right, it could be "proud" of the way it mitigated the impact of the banking crisis and the recession.

Mr Balls acknowledged there were "difficult decisions" to be made on the economy, but accused the coalition of a "reckless and ideological" approach to cutting public spending.

He said the coalition's argument that there was no alternative to substantial spending cuts was reminiscent of the rhetoric used by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

"There is an alternative, a Labour alternative," he said. "We have to win the argument that the speed and severity of the coalition's ideological cuts are unfair and unnecessary and will put the recovery at risk."

Mr Balls said the coalition had failed to learn the lessons of other countries, such as Ireland, which had slashed spending and resulted in higher unemployment, lower tax returns and larger government borrowing.

Miliband praise

The government's decision to cancel 700 new school building projects was indicative of what he said was a "shameful record" on education since it came to office, he added.

He also attacked the coalition's plans for new centrally-funded schools outside of local authority control - so-called free schools - as the "most socially divisive piece of education policy in the last 60 years".

Under the leadership of Ed Miliband, he said a "united and energised" Labour party must seek to return to power as soon as possible as anyone who believed being in opposition was fun "needed their heads examining".

Mr Balls also paid tribute to David Miliband, who will announce later on Wednesday whether he will stand for the shadow cabinet after narrowly losing the leadership contest to his brother.

Many people, including some senior Labour figures, expect him to say he is leaving front-line politics.

"David Miliband has made a massive contribution already and he has a huge contribution to make in the future," Mr Balls said.