19/01/2012 17:11 GMT

Ed Balls: Brown's Claim To Have Ended Boom And Bust A 'Rhetorical Error'

Ed Balls believes that Gordon Brown's continual claims of having eradicated the economics of boom and bust while in government "may have been a rhetorical error."

The Shadow Chancellor made the comment in a speech to journalists at Westminster, in which he said he'd be prepared to put money on Ed Miliband still being Labour leader at the next election.

However Balls wouldn't say how much of a stake on this he'd be prepared to put up, joking: "I can't afford it."

Although he appeared to be criticising Gordon Brown's presentational abilities on the economy, Balls - who was Education Secretary during the Brown government - insisted there was "nothing in Labour's fiscal policies" which had led to the size of the deficit it handed to the coalition. Blaming a widespread failure to regulate the financial system for the deficit, he also insisted that he'd had nothing to do with the knighthood awarded to the former RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin.

In a speech which focused on a claim that Labour's recent shift in stance on public sector pay freezes represented "a shift from a backward-looking view on the economy", Ed Balls revealed that he hasn't spoken to Len MccLuskey since the Unite leader's scathing criticism of Labour's new position on pay.

However Balls said that over the past few days there had been"many contacts back and forth" between the Labour party and the unions which largely finance it.

Balls claimed that after a "hugely significant week" in British and European politics, voters were now for the first time looking for an alternative narrative from the collation on the economy.

But he conceded that up until the middle of 2011, it had been "impossible" for Labour to win the debate on tax and public spending.

"People wanted to believe it was going to work," Balls admitted with reference to George Osborne's deficit reduction strategy.

But in a clear riposte to the union leaders who have criticised Labour in the past four days, Balls said "the extreme left" believed that the deficit could be ignored, and judged that view "oppositionist fantasy economics."

He also signaled he thought trade union leaders were out of touch with their grassroots members, claiming "pretty much every trade union member I've spoken to in the past year" had a "centrist" approach to tax and spending.

Describing the crisis in the eurozone as "catastrophic", Ed Balls said he was "pessimistic" about Greece's prospects for being able to restore itself as a functional member state of the single currency.

Balls also offered some titbits to journalists about the Blair/Brown era, claiming that after Peter Mandelson was forced to resign from the Tony Blair's cabinet, Gordon Brown had called him on his mobile "in a terrible state" to deliver the news. However Balls at the time had been more concerned that he'd forgotten to pick up a joint of beef to take to his wife Yvette Cooper's parents' house, leading to him to blurt out, "Where's the beef?" to Yvette. Gordon Brown, still at the other end of the phone, was apparently bemused, to say the least.

On claims that Yvette Cooper had stood aside last year to allow her husband to bid for the Labour leadership, Balls claimed his wife had made her own decision about her future, and if the issue came up again "at any point in the next twenty years", it would be entirely up to his wife to make up her own mind.

He also said he agreed with the claim on the cover of this week's Spectator magazine that Yvette Cooper is the "Iron Home Secretary" and promised the cover would be framed and put on the wall in the couple's home.