Balls admits to uphill struggle

A SENIOR minister on the campaign trail in Comet country said this weeks European and local elections will be hard on the Government. Ed Balls, children, schools and families secretary was in Stevenage on Monday door-stepping residents in Symonds Green

A SENIOR minister on the campaign trail in Comet country said this weeks' European and local elections will be hard on the Government.

Ed Balls, children, schools and families secretary was in Stevenage on Monday door-stepping residents in Symonds Green to try and drum up support for Labour in the county and European elections today (Thursday).

But he admitted it was an uphill struggle after the political fall-out from the expenses scandal.

"I think it's going to be really, really hard for the government and the Conservatives as well," he said.

But he thought the party could rebuild and gain the confidence of the public before the next general election.

He said "Every parliament has a tough time in the third and fourth term. But governments have won (general) elections even if they lose the European elections the year before."

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He added that he welcomed the new culture of openness in the Commons, but said "radical reform" was needed that went beyond the expenses system to gain the trust of the public.

"For MPs of my generation it's a relief - I thought we were there to represent our constituency," he said, "We need to be open so people can see what is going on. The media and Freedom of Information Act have done a good job - MPs who have fraudulent done things should be thrown out."

Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the Eastern Region, who was out campaigning with Mr Balls, was concerned that people staying away from the polls today in protest against greedy politicians would hand European seats to far-right groups.

"I do think there's a danger that not voting will let in the BNP and UKIP," he said, "It would not be a protest vote on one day, but will represent them for the next five years."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the Conservatives would cut public spending in the town, damaging services. He said: "In Stevenage, our team have been talking to people about the choice they have between Labour, which is giving real support to all during this recession, and Tory tax cuts for the wealthy few. We need to grow our way out of this recession, not cut our way out."

Gordon Brown's full comment to The Comet:

"The last few weeks have been dominated by MPs' expenses and people have been justifiably angry about those who have broken the rules and I share their anger.

"This sort of behaviour is not acceptable in the Labour Party - we have always stood for the many, not the few. Labour MPs went into politics to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, to serve the public not themselves - but we all know MPs need to work to prove they deserve people's trust. And Labour will stop anyone found guilty of defying the rules from being Labour candidates in the future.

"We are taking the toughest action to ensure faith is restored in our Parliamentary system and while the public anger over expenses should not be downplayed, having taken action we mustn't lose sight of the key issues at stake when the country will go to the polls on June 4th: the economy and jobs; public services; crime; housing; and Europe.

"In the past few weeks I have been out campaigning and meeting with voters up and down the country explaining to them the choice they have on June 4 and I know that Ed Balls visited Stevenage this week to do the same. In Stevenage, our Labour team- led by Barbara Follett, Richard Howitt MEP and Sharon Taylor- have been talking to people about the choice they have between Labour, which is giving real support to all during this recession, and Tory tax cuts for the wealthy few.

"Let us make no mistake about this- the Tories have clear, concrete plans to cut services in Stevenage in the middle of a recession. Cuts to services will directly impact the hard-working people in Stevenage. I am incredibly proud of the achievements this Labour Government has made- with Labour crime has dropped by 40 percent, in part due to our investment in the police, with thousands more police officers across the country. But Tory plans to slash the Home Office budget could see up to 54 police officers cut across Hertfordshire Constabulary.

"As Prime Minister I often have the chance to see the amazing work which is done in Sure Start children's centres. These centres, introduced by Labour in our first term provide high quality childcare alongside extra support for parents with parenting advice, health support and even help on accessing work and training. But the Conservatives have a plan to cut �200 million from the Sure Start budget this could mean that in least one of the six children's centres in Stevenage would be shut under the Conservatives.

"Fundamentally Labour believe we need to grow our way out of this recession not cut our way out and that is the choice voters face in the elections this Thursday.