Labour leadership hustings
Why did you leave the Coalition with the legacy of every man, woman and child owing £22,000 to the Treasury and now have the gall to blame the new government for making cuts that you yourself were planning? How do you sleep at night?
Andy Burnham: Let's be clear. The deficit was not the result of profligate spending under Labour. The credit crunch was forged in the overheated housing market in the US, not in Whitehall. We had to bail out the banks, because our economy would have suffered more and for longer had we not. The truth is that growth in public spending – on schools, on hospitals, on transport - was deliberately set at a much lower level than growth in the economy precisely. I delivered the last Comprehensive Spending Review as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I had to have some very difficult conversations with my fellow Cabinet ministers, telling them they had to revise their plans. So I utterly reject the premise that we were throwing money at public services and we must remind people of that.
We cannot and should not be in denial about the deficit, but equally we should not accept that cuts in services are the only option available. As Leader, I will set out a principled alternative to the brutal ConDem deficit reduction plan, where tax increases play a bigger part - particularly a more ambitious financial transactions tax on the banks - and call for a more measured timetable. I will advocate a cuts/tax balance of 60/40, and a more balanced approach to spending across the departments. My plan will also include tough spending decisions. I have already said I do not support Coalition plans for real-terms increases for the NHS, as it can only be paid for with cliff-edge cuts to other services upon which the NHS depends. Labour can gain credibility by making the call for a more balanced approach to public spending.
And don't be fooled into thinking that the Coalition's plans are unavoidable: they are ideological. Mr Cameron let the cat out of the bag recently when he said that spending would not be restored and that he wanted to change permanently the character of our public services. To do that would put vulnerable people at risk and I will not sit idly by and let that happen.
David Miliband: We have a large deficit because the Labour government acted to prevent global recession turning into depression – saving people's jobs, businesses and homes. The Tories opposed all these decisions, which would have left the deficit even bigger. I have set out plans to cut the deficit in half over four years. That would have involved tough decisions, but would have been based on our values: defending jobs, protecting the poorest and ensuring that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden. By contrast the Tories have chosen to go further and faster than is necessary – undermining our future prosperity and making cuts that are unfair. That is why ever since the budget families have been losing confidence in the future direction of the economy.
Ed Miliband: Two years ago, we faced an unprecedented economic crisis. Many said we were in for another Great Depression, a repeat of the 1930s and because of the action taken by Labour we avoided that. Let's nail the lie that the deficit is because of reckless spending by the government. The deficit is because of reckless behaviour by the banks.
A couple of ways to cut the deficit would be to increase taxes on the banks and keep the 50p tax rate, the burden should be shared fairly. We have to cut the deficit and we had plans to do so over four years. The Tories plans are ideologically motivated – cutting further and faster. Their assumption is that the private sector will fill the gap where the public sector is cut back is economic illiteracy. Private companies will lose contracts as the cuts dig deep in the public sector. Yes, we would have had to cut, but not at the speed and the manner in which this coalition government is doing. I fear what will happen when we begin to see the full impact of these cuts.
Ed Balls: We've just been through a global financial crisis so severe, I believe it's the economic equivalent of a natural disaster or a world war. If we'd done nothing, then recession could have turned into depression, which would have meant a bigger deficit and debt for our country. Of course we have to get the deficit down, but the right thing to do is to reduce it more steadily than the Tories & Lib Dems want to, so that we don't put jobs and growth at risk. My fear is that the deep cuts this year and next will mean slower growth and more people out of work. This will mean a bigger deficit and debt in the long term and could risk a double-dip recession. That's what would keep me awake at night.
Diane Abbott: I was not a minister for the last 13 years. But I would point out that my party inherited massive underinvestment and debt in the Health Service. And, in my constituency alone, the Labour government built five new secondary schools, poured money into hospitals and new GP surgeries, opened a new Underground line and renovated most of the estates. But, most important of all, the bulk of the current debt was incurred by pumping money into a banking system which was crashed by greedy and improvident bankers. You should ask how they sleep at night. Although I suppose the fat bonuses they are still paying themselves help.