The shadow chancellor defended Miliband after the former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott criticised the party leader’s “far too timid” speech and called more policies that appealed to a wider range of voters.
Speaking on Sky News’s Murnaghan programme, Balls said Miliband’s speech had been a strong one, apart from forgetting to mention the public finances. “He said to me afterwards it was a mistake, and it was,” Balls said.
He said Labour could still learn some things from Tony Blair’s victory in 1997, but the most important lesson was not to make unfunded promises on taxes and spending.
“The lesson we learned in 1997, when John [Prescott] and I worked together, is if you as a party come along, which happened in previous elections for us before 97, with promises which couldn’t be paid for then you get into trouble.”
Two donors criticised Labour this weekend over its proposed mansion tax. Lord Noon told the Sunday Times the plans for a tax on homes worth more than £2m was “hopeless and desperate” and the party “really need to buck up”.
Lord Levy, who was Tony Blair’s chief fundraiser, said: “I think that is a policy that is totally inappropriate and I see no validity in that policy whatsoever. Do I believe that the party needs to be more close and friendly to business? Yes, I do.”
Balls, however, defended the tax, which is popular with the public, and confirmed that even the Queen and other members of the royal family would have to pay it for homes that are not open to the public. “There aren’t different rules for anybody. That’s the nature of our society,” he said.
He defended the party’s performance as a new YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed the Conservatives moving two points into the lead, after promising tax cuts after the election without saying how they would be paid for. Labour has consistently led in the polls for two years, with only a couple of surveys showing the parties drawing close.
In an article for the Sunday Mirror, Prescott urged Miliband to appeal not just to his core vote and to “go all out for the win”.
“Ed might not like looking back but he can learn a lot from our 1997 campaign and our pledge card,” he wrote. “Five polices on health, crime, jobs, education and tax that were costed, deliverable and drilled into voters on every doorstep. And at the next election we proved we delivered them.
“So come on Ed. Ditch the pollsters, the focus groups and US-style politics. Be bold, be brave and let’s go all out for the win.”
Prescott suggested Miliband had missed an opportunity to appeal to new voters at Labour conference. “Bar a mansion tax to fund an increase in NHS funding and raising the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020, nothing sticks in my mind,” he said.
“I do remember Ed Balls saying he would freeze child benefit, but I can’t see many people racing to the polling booths for that. There was no mention of what we achieved in government. I’m told that’s because Labour is ‘focused on the future not the past’ … But the Tories are screwing us on our past so we can’t have a future.
“Miliband’s six-point 10-year plan was a start, but can you remember what they were? They were just one-line objectives, not detailed policies. I can understand keeping policies until the election begins, but time is running out.”
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