Harriet Harman and Ed Balls insist Labour can still win in the south

The East of England Labour Party conference at the Cameo Hotel in Copdock. Harriet Harman speaking.

The East of England Labour Party conference at the Cameo Hotel in Copdock. Harriet Harman speaking. - Credit: Archant

Labour heavyweights Harriet Harman and Ed Balls have both insisted they will put the setbacks of the last few weeks behind them and go on to win next year’s general election at a weekend conference near Ipswich.

And they reserved much of their most powerful rhetoric for an attack on UKIP and insisted their party was not afraid of tackling the issue of immigration.

The two leading members of the shadow cabinet are familiar figures in the region – Ms Harman has a holiday home near Ipswich while Mr Balls visited the Copdock conference while on his way to watch his beloved Norwich City take on Brighton at Carrow Road.

The party has been through a tough time recently with MPs and other party figures talking about the need for leader Ed Miliband to be more effective and then shadow minister Emily Thornberry resigning after posting a tweet from Rochester that was considered snobbish.

The party followed up a poor performance in the Clacton by-election with an equally poor performance at Rochester and Strood – a seat it held until 2010.

She said Labour leaders often came under fire from Conservative-leaning commentators and the national press – and the party would fight on.

Ms Harman insisted it was vital that Labour picked up seats across the Eastern Region. At present it only has two MPs in the region, both representing Luton seats, and it is now targetting 13 more – including Ipswich, Waveney, Great Yarmouth, and the two Norwich seats.

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She said: “Ed Miliband’s path to Downing Street runs straight through the Eastern Region.”

The rise of UKIP has been a significant factor in elections over the last two years – and Ms Harman said the anti-Europe party had to be tackled.

She said: “We are not saying UKIP is a threat to the Labour Party. We are saying UKIP is a threat to people in this country because what they do is they pick up on people’s concerns but the solutions they put forward would make things worse for people.

“Worse than that they are setting people against each other. They are divisive so that is not about us. It is about this country and the communities that live in this country.

“So when we warn about UKIP, it is not tactical for the sake of the Labour Party or because we have woken up and looked at the opinion polls, it is because we know about people. We are in politics because we care about people and we don’t want to see ugly, divisiveness in this country.”

Mr Balls challenged the government’s claims that the economy was improving.

He said: “Ministers complacently claim the economy is fixed, but most people are not feeling the recovery.

“This Tory plan isn’t working for working people. The latest figures show wages falling in the last year and working people are over £1600 a year worse off under the Tories. Under this government house building is it at its lowest level since the 1920s, business investment is lagging behind our competitors and exports are way off target.

“So Labour’s economic plan will deliver a recovery for the many, not just a few at the top. Our plan will tackle the cost-of-living crisis, earn our way to higher living standards for all and save our NHS.

“We will raise the minimum wage, boost apprenticeships, get 200,000 new homes built a year and expand free childcare for working parents. And we will balance the books in the next Parliament, but do so in a fairer way – starting by reversing David Cameron’s tax cut for millionaires.”