In the week that all the parties launched their election manifestos it was great to have the opportunity to spend more than an hour hosting a Q&A session with shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. He willingly agreed to take questions from any subject area from the audience at JW3.
When I asked Mr Balls if he was concerned the mansion tax – plans to tax properties valued at more than £2M an additional £250 per month – would cost his party votes he acknowledged that some voters with properties worth more than £2 million may desert Labour at the election.
He said “It’s not something I wanted to do, I didn’t come into politics to have a mansion tax. But I think at a time when the NHS is under pressure, family budgets are under pressure and you’ve seen a very, very big rise in house prices particularly at the top over the last 20 years, I think it’s fair….. Any person who has an expensive house, but a low income, won’t have to pay the mansion tax. The reality is the people with properties over £2m are substantially under taxed, compared to everyone else. We have to invest in the NHS. We say to people in £2-3million homes, we ask for a contribution of £250 a month. We think that is reasonable”
He defended Labour’s must-discussed mug promoting controls on immigration. He described his party’s approach as “the pragmatic social justice approach to making sure that immigration works for all”. He said: “The NHS would fall over without people who come here from around the world to work, many of the great ideas, engineers and surgeons and very many hard working people in my constituency have come here as first or second-generation immigrants. So I will defend immigration to the hilt.”
In talking about the right to buy policies he said he is “all for” people in housing associations being able to buy their homes but that the Conservative manifesto pledge was fundamentally flawed. He said: “On the one hand, I am all for people being able to buy their home, whether that’s a council house or if they are living in a housing association. But on the other hand, at a time when we have a shortage of homes, if the effect of that is to reduce the number of homes, that would be a really bad policy. The Government today has not actually put the money up to make that policy work. It may end up, perversely, making houses more expensive for the next generation. That’s a real risk.”
When questioned about Labour’s stance on Israel he said “Israel is the only democracy of the Middle East and that is something to be proud of and to nurture and to support. “I am a member of a party which has always supported the right of the state of Israel to exist and flourish. We have always supported and will always support the actions which are needed to deliver a two-state solution and we will act decisively and aggressively any time there is any sign of anti-Semitism in our country – whether it is happening in schools or outside synagogues or universities campuses.”