Balls steals Cameron’s ‘national interest’ clothes

Ed Balls daringly stole the Conservative's own conference slogan from them today, with a detailed speech mapping out how Labour would govern in the "national interest".

In a rousing and wide-ranging speech, the shadow chancellor said he would set up a committee led by Olympic deliverance head Sir John Armitt lto look into how long term planning decisions could be taken out of the hands of government, so they are no longer subject to party-political point scoring.

"The lesson of the Olympics is that if we approach major long-term infrastructure projects by building a cross-party sense of national purpose then we can deliver," he said during his keynote conference speech today.

"But, above all, successive governments – including our own – have ducked or delayed vital decisions on our national infrastructure, allowing short-term politics to come first."

The inquiry will draw up plans for a commission, independent of government, which can assess and make proposals on the long term infrastructure needs of the country over the coming decades.

The plan, which mimics Gordon Brown's decision to give the Bank of England independence when Labour came to power, shows the shadow chancellor is looking at ways of preventing issues such as the national grid, super-fast broadband and airport capacity getting dragged down into day-to-day party politics.

But it is also a clear effort to reclaim the coalition's professed ability to govern "in the national interest" – which the Tories used as a conference slogan two years ago.

Balls is intent on projecting a fiscally credible image for Labour. Apart from the infrastructure plan, he also refused to promise to reverse coalition spending cuts, despite attacks from trade union leaders.

"Before the next election – when we know the circumstances we will face – we will set out for our manifesto tough new fiscal rules to get our country's current budget back to balance and national debt on a downward path," he said.

"When we sell off the government's shares in the banks every penny will go to repay the national debt – fiscal responsibility in the national interest."

Balls speech also promised a "zero-based" spending review if Labour return to power. Such a move would see departments justify all their spending, rather than just increases.

He demanded the £3 billion revenue from the 4G auction be used to build 100,000 affordable homes and said there should be a stamp duty holiday for first time buyers purchasing homes up to £250,000.

Elsewhere in his speech, which was well received in the hall, Balls attacked the government for its handling of women.

"What kind of prime minister thinks it's fair to sack a 54 year old woman from his Cabinet because she's 'too old' – and then give the job to a 56 year old man instead?" he asked.

"Let me tell you: a prime minister who only appoints five women in the first place, sacks three of them, demotes the other two – and then attacks the Labour leadership for not being 'butch' enough."

Meanwhile, Balls was still trying to bat away the suggestion he cheated during a football match yesterday.

Members of the lobby – journalists based in parliament – played a 'politicians vs press' football game in which the shadow chancellor scored two goals.

The second came after a penalty was allowed, but some figures mischievously accused Balls of diving to secure it.

"Ed Balls went down like a sack of spuds when barely brushed," one journalist commented.
Balls told Sky this morning: ""The press are saying I went down easy. Who went down 3-0? A bit of sour grapes."