David Cameron has accused Ed Balls of saying “frankly the most appalling thing” of the election so far, after the shadow chancellor claimed it was meant to be a joke when former Labour minister Liam Byrne left a note in the Treasury warning there was no money left.
Before a speech in Birmingham, Balls said it was wrong to suggest that Labour had not left any funds in the Treasury, despite the letter left by his colleague at the end of the last government in 2010.
Balls told BBC West Midlands: “Liam Byrne’s note was a jokey note, of course the money hadn’t run [out]. David Laws, his successor, decided to make what was supposed to be a private note, public. It was supposed to be a piece of humour.
“In fact, in that year, the government spend hundreds of billions of pounds, so of course the money hadn’t run out, but there was a large deficit, and we had to get it down, and we needed to get it down in a fair way.
“The reason why we’re more credible than the Tories now is that they’re not people who understand the need for change in the economy, it’s not been all in it together, they’ve not even balanced the books - it’s going to take a Labour government to do it.”
These Tory giveaways include £8bn for the NHS, £6.5bn on raising the personal tax allowance, £3.9bn on raising the higher-rate threshold, £4.5bn on extending the right-to-buy scheme and £1.2bn on extra free childcare.
But speaking from Scotland, Cameron then launched a personal attack on Balls, saying his comments about the Byrne note were “frankly the most appalling thing I have heard in this election campaign so far”.
He claimed Balls was Ed Miliband’s third choice to be shadow chancellor and was frankly “the country’s last choice to be put in charge of this nation’s finances”.
He said: “The note that was left was correct. It said there was no money left. Let us think about the consequences of what we inherited and what we had to do. We had to make difficult decisions, we had to find efficiencies in government spending, we had to put up some taxes.
“We had to make some very very difficult decisions to get this country back on track. That note that said there is no money left was referring to the fact that our budget deficit was forecast to be bigger than the budget deficit in Greece when I became prime minister.”
Cameron’s comments are the latest in a line of personal attacks by senior Tories on Labour ones.
The defence secretary, Michael Fallon, sparked a backlash last week when he said Miliband could stab the UK in the back over the renewal of Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, because he stabbed his brother in the back to win the Labour leadership.
Cameron has repeatedly brought up the “no money” note during the election campaign, including during the television leaders debate on ITV.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 16th April 2015 14.04 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010