Politics live blog – The Guardian

Earlier I said that the feud between David Cameron and Ed Balls was one of the most interesting in British politics. (See 8.59am)1 But that will surprise anyone in the CBI audience this morning who does not follow Westminster closely and who heard both men speak because what was striking was how, on various issues, they sounded remarkably similar. They were both quite eloquent about wanting more school pupils to be inspired by the prospect of a career in business, although, curiously, Balls was more passionate about this (see 11.52am2 and 12.03pm)3 than Cameron (see 10.04am). 4More importantly, on Europe, they were both firmly in favour of Britain staying in a reformed EU, but also alert to the need not to take public support for the EU for granted. And on HS2 they were both in favour – provided the costs don’t rise.

So, is this the start of a harmonious new relationship?

Of course not. It’s more a case of politicians telling an audience what it wants to hear (or, to be more accurate, politicians doing their best to find common ground with the people they are addressing). But the nuances were interesting.

Here are the main points.

David Cameron has admitted that the government put too much emphasis on speed when it originally tried to win public support for the HS2 high-speed rail project. As the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reports, 5this is what Cameron said about this in the Q&A.

One of the problems we have with HS2 is that the early argument – a lot of it was about speed.

I make no apology for that it is important to get from A to B quickly.

Is there a businessman here who likes to take the slow train who likes to go more slowly of course not. Everyone wants to get places quickly.

But the real argument about HS2 isn t speed it is capacity. The line is full we need a new line and building HS2 will not just make it faster and more capacity to get from London to Birmingham, or London to Leeds or London to Manchester, it will have enormous knock-on benefits for other destinations.

This is an argument that Lord Adonis, the Labour former transport secretary (and a strong supporter of HS2) made in an article in the summer. Cameron also said that he wanted HS2 to come in “under budget” and, as trailed in advance, he said that Sir David Higgins, who is taking charge of the project, was being asked to cut costs. (See 9.38am.)678

Ed Balls has interpreted Cameron’s comments as a vindication for Labour. “I welcome the prime ministers’ belated recognition that he needs to get a grip of HS2 costs”, Balls said, as he repeated his insistence that Labour will not give the project “a blank cheque”.

David Cameron has backed a CBI report saying that Britain should stay in a reformed EU (pdf).9 This was brave because, in Eurosceptic demonology, the CBI ranks alongside Peter Mandelson near the very top. (See, for example, this tweet.)10 Cameron also wants Britain to stay in a reformed EU, but in the past he has not ruled out backing withdrawal from the EU if it refuses to cede back powers to the UK by 2017.

However in today’s report the CBI said that would be foolish.

No alternative option to full EU membership can combine all the benefits of EU membership with none of the costs; such solutions are simply unrealistic. While the UK could certainly survive outside the EU, none of the alternatives suggested offers a clear path to an improved balance of advantages and disadvantages or greater influence over the terms of UK interaction with its nearest neighbours.

Today, in response from a questioner who wanted Cameron to make the case for EU membership, Cameron said: “I think the CBI have hugely helped this morning with a very positive report.”

But Cameron also said support of the EU was currently “wafer thin”. 11That was why he wanted reform, and then a referendum, he said.

But be in no doubt; in the end you cannot stay in these organisations that give up quite a bit of your national sovereignty unless you take the British people with you. The British people were told about a common market.

They were told about an economic area. So much has changed about this organisation, and so little consent has been granted, that it’s time to make those arguments, seek that consent, and as prime minister of this country that’s exactly what I will do.

He also said he was convinced that the EU would reform.

I sit round that European Union table at these summits and I can see this organisation is going to change. It is changing in front of our eyes because of the euro.

Balls has hinted that he favours a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. At least, that is how I read this passage.

Europe needs reform, but to walk away from our EU membership would be reckless, foolish and deeply damaging.

On Britain s future in Europe, the national interest must come first.

But at a time when most people in our country are seeing their living standards falling year on year, we cannot take public support for this open, global vision of a dynamic market economy for granted.

UPDATE at 5.40pm: An aide to Balls has been in touch to say that he thinks I am wrong to interpret this as a hint that Balls favours an EU referendum.

It was actually one of the most strongly pro-Europe speeches Balls has given, the aide said.

Cameron has said that he wants 1,000 business leaders to sign up to the Speakers for Schools initiative launched by the BBC’s Robert Peston.12

Ed Balls speaking at the CBI conference.Ed Balls speaking at the CBI conference.

Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images


  1. ^ 8.59am) (www.theguardian.com)
  2. ^ 11.52am (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ 12.03pm) (www.theguardian.com)
  4. ^ 10.04am). (www.theguardian.com)
  5. ^ As the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reports, (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  6. ^ in an article in the summer. (www.newstatesman.com)
  7. ^ “under budget” (www.newstatesman.com)
  8. ^ 9.38am.) (www.theguardian.com)
  9. ^ a CBI report saying that Britain should stay in a reformed EU (pdf). (www.cbi.org.uk)
  10. ^ this tweet.) (twitter.com)
  11. ^ But Cameron also said support of the EU was currently “wafer thin”. (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  12. ^ Cameron has said that he wants 1,000 business leaders to sign up to the Speakers for Schools initiative launched by the BBC’s Robert Peston. (speakers4schools.org)

See original reference article:
Politics live blog – The Guardian

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