MANCHESTER England (Reuters) - Britain’s opposition Labor party will try to convince voters it can be trusted with the economy by promising on Monday it would cut ministerial salaries and curb public spending if it wins a national election next year.
Opinion polls of voting intentions ahead of the May 2015 election give left-leaning Labor a slight lead over Prime Minister David Cameron’s right-leaning Conservatives. But the same surveys also show voters have far more trust in Cameron and his team to continue to nurse the British economy back to health than they do Labor.
Borrowing an election slogan used by U.S. President Barack Obama about not giving the keys back to the driver who crashed the car, the Conservatives have sought to portray Labor as the party responsible for racking up huge public debts and failing to prevent one of the country’s deepest ever recessions.
Labor, which was in power at the time of the 2008 global downturn and one of whose ministers left a jokey but factually accurate note for the next government saying there was no money left, says it was a victim of circumstances and handled the financial crisis well.
In a keynote speech on Monday at Labor’s last annual conference ahead of the election, Ed Balls, the party’s finance spokesman, reiterated a pledge to get the current budget - which excludes spending on investment - into surplus in the next 2015-2020 parliament and the national debt falling as soon as possible by applying tough fiscal rules.
“This is our task: not to flinch from the tough decisions we must make and to show the country that there is a better way forward,” Balls will say at the event in Manchester, northern England, according to advance extracts of his speech released by his office.
Conservative finance minister George Osborne has said he wants to eliminate the budget altogether by the end of the next parliament, a slightly more aggressive plan than Labor’s.
Balls will unveil two new eye-catching promises intended to underline his seriousness.
The first will include a pledge to cut ministers’ salaries by 5 percent and freeze them until Labor balances the books. The second will be a warning that he would cap rises in child welfare payments at 1 percent for the first two years of the next parliament.
“We will have to make other decisions which I know will not be popular with everyone,” he will say.
The Conservatives said Labor’s plans to reduce ministerial pay would only amount to around 0.003 percent of the deficit.
“This speech inst a serious plan for the economy ... These savings on ministerial pay only cut a miniscule fraction of the deficit,” said Priti Patel, a Conservative junior minister in Britain’s finance ministry.
“For all his bluster, Ed Balls still refuses to admit that Labor spent too much and he’s opposed every decision we’ve taken to cut the deficit.”
Reporting by Andrew Osborn, Kylie MacLellan and William Schomberg; Editing by William Hardy