Labour says it wants budget surplus if it wins next UK election

LONDON Sun Jan 19, 2014 12:30pm EST

Britain's Labour Party opposition leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech at a university in central London January 17, 2014. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain's Labour Party opposition leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech at a university in central London January 17, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of the opposition Labour party said on Sunday his party wants to eliminate Britain's budget deficit by 2020 if it wins the next election, matching a pledge by Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party.

In a move aimed at shoring up Labour's tarnished fiscal credibility, Ed Miliband said his left-leaning party was determined to get the deficit down, saying it intended to put forward credible, properly costed proposals to do so.

Ahead in opinion polls in the run-up to a 2015 national election, Labour is trying to counter political rivals who constantly remind voters that it left Britain saddled with the country's biggest peacetime deficit when it left office in 2010.

Polls show voters continue to trust Cameron's Conservatives more on the economy than Labour.

Asked in a BBC TV interview whether he wanted to see the deficit eliminated by the end of the next parliament in 2020, Miliband said:

"We do want to see that happen, yes. We want to get the current account into balance by the end of the next parliament and we want to see debt falling."

When asked whether he planned to achieve his aim through tax rises or spending cuts or a mixture of both, Miliband declined to be specific, saying only that his party wanted to see a fairer tax system.

"When we come to office, if we come to office after 2015, there won't be lots of real money to spend, things will be difficult. The task for the next Labour government will be to earn and grow our way to that higher standard of living not being able to engage in lots more spending."

If it wins, Labour has pledged to stick to the current two-party coalition government's spending plans for the first year of the next parliament, even though it has sharply criticized Cameron and his allies for pushing through spending cuts which it says were too deep and too fast.

Miliband said it was possible to make planned spending cuts in 2015/16 in a fairer way.

"It will involve cuts and difficult decisions and it's a sign of our seriousness of getting the deficit down. I think that we can make fairer choices when it comes to the deficit - fairer choices than this government."

Miliband also outlined plans to give consumer groups a bigger and more formal say in how a new competition regulator operates, a move that drew criticism from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) which said the new watchdog should be allowed to work without interference.

Conservative finance minister George Osborne promised last September that he would return Britain to a budget surplus during the next parliament, as long as the economy continued to mend.

The economy has since staged a surprisingly strong recovery and Osborne has spoken of the need to make a further 25 billion pounds ($41.11 billion) in spending cuts - much of it from the welfare budget - in the next parliament if the Conservatives are re-elected.

($1 = 0.6081 British pounds)

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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