Balls: We’ll go into next election demanding tougher immigration controls

Labour needs to promise "tougher controls" on immigration if it is to win key marginal seats at the next general election, Ed Balls has told

The shadow chancellor's comments are the firmest indication yet that the opposition are set to crank up their rhetoric on immigration as the 2015 general election approaches.

"I think people need to know here that Labour recognises we didn't get everything right and will have tough controls. That is important," Balls said in an interview for's upcoming autumn statement podcast.

"They don't want us to get into a bidding war with the Conservative party. David Cameron may want to play those games, we don't want to play that game. But that is something they need to hear from us."

The Conservatives promised to cut net immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands over the course of the present parliament – a promise now expected will not be achieved by 2015.

Ed Miliband admitted that Labour had "got it wrong" on immigration in a speech in June this year, signalling the start of a repositioning of the opposition's approach to the sensitive issue.

The Labour leader accepted his party was wrong not to impose transitional controls on eastern European countries who joined the EU.

He also identified a number of minor reforms affecting the issue, including preventing employment agencies from only recruiting overseas workers and making larger companies declare if over 25% of their workforce come from abroad.

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant has suggested Labour can build a positive message on the issue, by avoiding "selling the pass" that immigration is wholly negative.

But Balls' comments have signalled a shift in rhetoric from the Labour party, suggesting a hardening stance on the issue.

Balls was speaking from Stevenage, one of the seats Labour lost to the Conservatives at the last general election. He is Labour's eastern region 'champion' within the shadow Cabinet, meaning his focus is on regaining former Labour seats like Yarmouth, Thurrock, Bedford and Harlow in 2015.

"People want to know the economy's going to work for them, that the government will be on their side," he added.

"They want us to show on immigration that we'll have tougher controls, we'll make work pay.

"They want us to be listening to them and working for them. I think what's happening at the minute is there's a great deal of disillusionment now with the government, with the Conservative party, with the coalition.

"People want though to be reassured Labour will be tough, but also make things better for them. And that's our task in the next two years."