Gaffe adds to UK Labour's woes as it fights 'anti-business' claim

Reuters News
|
Posted: Feb 04, 2015 6:30 AM

LONDON (Reuters) - The man who will be Britain's Chancellor if the opposition Labour Party win an election on May 7 found himself the butt of jokes on Wednesday after forgetting during a live TV interview the name of an important backer from the ranks of business.

Ed Balls had been trying to defend Labour against accusations by the ruling Conservatives and by some business figures that it is anti-business when his efforts backfired.

Asked by a BBC interviewer to name business figures who supported Labour, Balls gave the name "Bill", then appeared at a loss for words for a few seconds.

Pressed for Bill's surname, Balls said it had "gone from my head, which is a bit annoying at this time of night".

He was in fact referring to Bill Thomas, a former senior executive at Hewlett-Packard unit EDS, who led a review of policy on small business for Labour.

While not a major issue in itself, the memory lapse is unhelpful to Labour because it feeds into a Conservative campaign theme that the Labour leadership don't care about business and can't be trusted to run the economy.

Balls' interview came just after Ed Miliband, the Labour leader and potential prime minister, clashed with the boss of high street retailer Boots, Stefano Pessina, who said a Labour government "would not be helpful for business".

Miliband accused Pessina of tax avoidance and of protecting powerful vested interests against necessary reforms.

Balls, 47, tried to make light of his awkward interview, writing on Twitter: "It's an age thing!"

But Conservative legislators seized the opportunity to lampoon Balls, a veteran politician who spent years working closely with Labour's former Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he was finance minister, and was also a minister himself.

"Oh Ed, it's so much more than an age thing," wrote Conservative member of parliament Andrew Percy on Twitter.

"Ed Balls' Newsnight interview shows that Labour (government) would collapse business confidence and cause the job losses that inevitably result," wrote fellow Conservative legislator Graham Stuart.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Stephen Addison)