"I'm not a daily reader," Ed Balls confessed today when congratulating ATL delegate Martin Johnson at the TUC for his feature article in the Morning Star.
In common with all delegates and visitors to the TUC annual conference, Balls benefited from a complimentary copy of our paper, courtesy of the GMB, Unite, RMT and POA unions.
Had he been a daily reader, the shadow chancellor might have avoided misleading conference by claiming that taking our railways back into public ownership would cost "billions and billions of pounds."
Rail unions RMT, TSSA and Aslef have all written in the Morning Star that renationalisation could be achieved by non-renewal of the franchises held by private train-operating companies.
There is no good reason for Labour to shy away from public rail ownership, which is backed overwhelmingly by public opinion.
For Balls to use the "billions and billions of pounds" justification for his statement that "wholesale public ownership will not be our first priority" indicates that he and the Labour front bench ought to broaden their reading material and pay greater attention to the views of the unions.
Balls went out of his way to stress the need for closer working between Labour and the unions, which is commendable.
He introduced a note of self-criticism, acknowledging that Labour in government should have listened to the trade union movement about the need to provide new council housing, to enforce the minimum wage and to implement the temporary and agency workers directive.
So far so good, but there remain serious criticisms about Labour attitudes to working-class living standards, which Unison delegate Liz Cameron highlighted in her hard-hitting question to Balls.
It cannot be acceptable to hear Labour in opposition back a Tory-led government's three-year pay freeze on public-sector workers struggling with ever higher food and heating bills and often forced into the hands of unscrupulous usurers offering so-called pay-day loans.
Balls was on strongest ground when hitting out at the Con-Dem government, pointing out that millions of working people are taxed to the hilt to finance a tax cut that benefits only those paid over £150,000.
But what of tax policy under a future Labour government?
New Labour insisted in 1997 that it would not increase tax on big business and the rich and, unfortunately, it proved as good as its word.
Balls remains of the opinion that Labour, had it still been in government, would have had to cut spending on services, pay and pensions.
"Unlike Nick Clegg, we will not make promises we cannot keep," he said, adding that there will be "difficult decisions from which we cannot flinch and we won't."
So why not make different promises - such as a wealth tax, higher income tax for the rich, rooting out tax avoidance - and then be resolute in keeping them?
Working people bear no blame for the financial crisis triggered by bankers' reckless speculation, so why should they pay for it through slashed services, lower pay, reduced benefits and degraded pensions?
Labour lost five million votes in office because of the growing perception that it didn't care about working people.
Balls should be more ambitious in rectifying this perception.
He can't always rely on getting his Morning Star free, but £1 a day would be money well spent in broadening his political horizons.
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