LABOUR leadership contender and Yorkshire MP Yvette Cooper has rejected claims that the last Labour government spent too much in the run-up to the financial crash.
Ms Cooper, who was Treasury chief secretary when the crisis struck in 2008 and whose husband Ed Balls was Shadow Chancellor until the election, acknowledged the party did not always spend public money “wisely” during its time in office.
However, in her first major interview since declaring her intention to run in the contest to succeed Ed Miliband, she insisted that overall spending levels were supported by all the political parties at the time.
“The deficit at the time was something like 0.6% (of GDP) - the current deficit. All the political parties at the time were all supporting the spending plans and that was all due to come down,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.
“There has been a focus on that as if that was the economic issue. The real economic issue of the time was that we had banks who were involved in huge private lending, that nobody had spotted the scale of private sector debt that had been growing up that was unsecured, the links between the financial sector all over the world, particularly into the housing market crisis in America.
“Should the Labour government have done much more to deal with that? Yes, absolutely. Should we have had much stronger regulation of the banks? Yes, absolutely.”
Ms Cooper’s comments - which broadly echo the line taken by the party during the general election campaign - are in sharp contrast with fellow leadership contender Liz Kendall who has said spending was too high in the run-up to the crash.
Ms Cooper, the shadow home secretary, is the fourth candidate to throw her hat into the ring in the leadership contest alongside Ms Kendall, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham.
She refused to be drawn into criticising Mr Miliband’s leadership of the party.
“Ed is a good friend of mine and I think he worked immensely hard and he did a lot of really important things in holding the party together and so on. But look, we lost the election and we all have to take responsibility for that,” she said.
She acknowledged however that the party had lost votes to Ukip which it now needed to win back.
“It is not just about dealing with issues around immigration - of course you have to do that. It is also about challenging the fear, the nationalism, the divisiveness,” she said.
“When you have falling living standards as we have seen under this Conservative Government for the last five years, it is a febrile breeding ground for nationalism and division. We have got to be able to take that on.”
Earlier, during a visit to a primary school in Sheldon, Birmingham, Ms Cooper dismissed claims that she was too close to Labour’s “old guard” to make the party electable again.
“We’ve had a lot of people talking about whether or not we can just go back to remedies of the past, be that of Tony Blair or Gordon Brown or other approaches in the past,” she said.
“That’s not going to work because the world has changed, the economy has changed.”
She disclosed that her husband, who lost his seat in the election, would not be involved in her leadership campaign.
“He’s doing his own things for the future and that’s right for him,” she said.