LONDON The new Shadow Chancellor played down talk of a rift with his boss on how to cut a record peacetime budget deficit and vowed on Friday to give the government a tougher fight on the economy.
The Labour Party's Ed Balls, a staunch ally of former prime minister Gordon Brown with strong support from the left of the party, said he and leader Ed Miliband were "at one" on reducing the deficit.
During his failed campaign to become party leader after Brown's election defeat in May, Balls had explicitly opposed Labour's policy of halving the deficit in four years.
In a speech in London last August, he said he had told the prime minister in 2009 that "even trying to halve the deficit in four years was a mistake ... the pace was too severe to be credible or sustainable."
Balls said he now supported Labour's deficit-cutting policy because the economy had improved since he made those comments.
"Growth was stronger than we expected, unemployment was falling a year ago," he told BBC radio. "I am clear, if there was a Labour government today, we would be halving the deficit over four years."
Commentators had speculated that Balls's appointment could signal a shift in policy after the resignation on Thursday of Alan Johnson, an economic novice who supported Miliband's deficit plans.
Miliband said Balls would not alter Labour's stance, but would continue in the "direction Alan and I have set out."
"Economic policy is unchanged. Actually Ed and I have similar views," the Labour leader said.
Balls said Prime Minister David Cameron's cost-cutting measures risked strangling growth.
Unemployment is rising but stubbornly high inflation has fuelled expectations the Bank of England may raise interest rates from their record low of 0.5 percent sooner than expected.
"The most important thing to get the deficit down is to keep this economy moving, to get more jobs, to get the economy growing," Balls told the BBC.
"They (the coalition) are cutting spending now in a fast and reckless way and that is what is going to put at risk not just our jobs and growth, but also our deficit reduction."
Centre-left Labour lost an election in May, ending 13 years in power, after campaigning against the speed and size of the then opposition Conservatives' planned cuts.
"When Labour was in government we didn't make the mistakes of the 1930s. Those are the mistakes I think are now being made by this Tory-led coalition," Balls said, defending Labour's record.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat government is cutting spending by 19 percent across most departments over the next four years to all but eliminate the budget deficit by 2015.
Their programme has led to student demonstrations in London and threats of co-ordinated strikes by unions.
(Reporting by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)
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