Sunday News Review

Balls comes out fighting

Ed Balls, the new shadow chancellor, claimed on Saturday that the government’s “reckless gamble” of massive spending cuts was already harming the economy as the country headed for high unemployment, lower mortgage lending and slower growth. Balls, who was promoted last week after the surprise resignation of Alan Johnson, showed signs of a newly combative approach as he claimed that the coalition had turned a promising economic outlook into a gloomy one by pushing through “the fastest, deepest deficit reduction in Britain’s peacetime history”. Labour MPs had become frustrated during the first months of Ed Miliband’s leadership at how the coalition managed to pin all blame for the deficit on Labour. They were also dismayed at how Tories and Lib Dems had convinced large sections of the public that there was no alternative to their strategy of savage fiscal retrenchment. – the Guardian

The appointment of Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor is great news for the country. Alan Johnson is a nice man but a fighter is needed for these tough times. Alan simply wasn’t challenging the ConDems’ economic policy of cuts, cuts and more cuts. Ed’s background means he is well prepared. He left Oxford University with a first class degree then went to Harvard. I first met him in the 90s when he was a young ­journalist in the States on the Financial Times. We would chat about economic policy and even in those days it was obvious he was headed for big things. Ed will challenge Slasher Osborne and his mistaken programme of austerity that isn’t working. He is aggressive, smart, passionate and a battler with a big advantage over the coalition – a really good understanding of economics. He will quickly challenge the ConDems’ long list of ­broken promises – VAT, tuition fees and the slashing of public sector jobs nobody voted for. – David Blanchflower, the Mirror

Labour’s alternative plan would put jobs and growth first. Instead of doing backroom deals with the banks on the disclosure of their pay, we would apply the bank bonus tax again. It brought in £3.5 billion last year which could be used this year to help create the jobs and growth we need. The lesson of history is that good economics is good politics. But when Chancellors put political ideology or expediency before economic logic, the country pays a heavy price. This Tory Chancellor and this Tory-led government are repeating the mistakes of the 1930s and 1980s, but they just keep ploughing on. They had a choice about which path to go down, and it is already becoming clear they have made the wrong choice.  It is not too late to change course. It is not too late for an alternative. And if they do not provide it to the British people, Ed Miliband and I will. Of course we do not oppose every cut, but the Tory-led government is cutting too far too fast. And over the coming weeks and months, we will hold them to account for the reckless gamble they have taken, and the historic mistake they have made. – Ed Balls

Coulson departure raises more questions

Gordon Brown has asked the police to investigate whether he was the victim of phone hacking, The Independent on Sundayhas learnt. Mr Brown has written at least one letter to the Metropolitan Police over concerns that his phone was targeted when he was Chancellor, during the latter stages of Andy Coulson’s reign as editor of the News of the World. Mr Brown’s aides last night declined to comment. It is understood that Scotland Yard sought clarification from the former prime minister after his request. Sources have told The IoS that Tony Blair, his predecessor as prime minister, had also asked police some months ago to investigate whether messages left by him had been the subject of hacking (he did not have his own mobile phone until after he left No 10). – Independent on Sunday

Britain’s tabloid newspapers are now facing a major crisis after being drawn into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Twenty-four hours after Andy Coulson, the prime minister’s communications chief and former News of the World editor, was forced to resign, a lawyer confirmed other newspapers were facing legal claims. Mark Lewis, who acted for Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association in a damages claim against the NoW, confirmed to theObserver that he was now representing four people who believe they were targeted by other newspapers. Lewis said that none of the four had been hacked by News Group Newspapers, owner of the News of the World and the Sun. “Lots of people were doing it,” Lewis said. “It was such a widespread practice.” He added that he had been preparing the cases since Christmas. “We are at an initial stage in our investigations made with police forces and phone companies. But we believe there is a prima facie case that information has been obtained unlawfully. – the Observer

Cameron faces opposition over forest sell off

In a letter published in The Sunday Telegraph and signed by almost 100 dignitaries, the Coalition sale is branded as “unconscionable” and “ill-conceived”. The signatories to the letter, organised by a new campaign group, Save England’s Forests, include Dr Rowan Williams; Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate; Dame Judi Dench, the Oscar-winning actress; and Bill Bryson, the author and president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Other backers include Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, and Tony Juniper who is special adviser to the Prince of Wales’s Rainforests Project, Annie Lennox, the pop singer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the explorer, and authors Michael Frayn and Julian Barnes. The criticism of the sale is embarrassing for David Cameron, who had promised to make his administration the greenest government in British history. Instead, the Prime Minister finds himself clashing with the Archbishop over the sale of forests and woodland. – the Telegraph

The famous figures urged the government to suspend any significant sales “until the public has been fully consulted”, adding that they expect leaders to “engage in real dialogue with communities throughout the country to create a sustainable future for our public woods and forests”. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has insisted there are no plans to sell nature reserves, adding that community groups and charities would play a greater role in protecting important habitats. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has assured the public that access rights would not be lost if parts of woodland were sold. In a message on its website, it said: “We urge anyone with an interest in this issue to wait for the consultation to be published and see our plans in full.” – BBC

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