Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has claimed that George Osborne is trying to provoke a conflict with the unions, like former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

He urged unions not to fall into the Government’s “trap” by responding.

He said there was “something of the Margaret Thatcher” about Osborne, warning that the government was taking on a 1980s approach to industrial relations to divert focus from the economy.

In the face of a mass walkout in November over planned changes to pensions in the public sector, Balls said: "If George Osborne really wants to sort this out, he should get round the table and have serious discussions with the trade unions.

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"I fear that what he really wants is strikes in the autumn to divert attention away from an economic plan which isn't working.

"Strikes are always a last resort, I hope they won't happen, but it's unfair what the Government is doing.

"I said at the very beginning, back in spring, I thought that was a trap being set.

"We lost seven-times more days in strikes in the 1980s than in the last 10 years. Why? Because back then in the 1980s it was confrontational. Unions against management, unions against government, strikes here and there.

"Most people would say that's a really bad way to run our economy.

"But there's something of the Margaret Thatcher sometimes in George Osborne: raising VAT, 'I'll go on and on and on, I'll take the unions on'."

Mr Balls added: "I think that's very 1980s. We are in a different place now, the world's moved on, we should be working together to sort out problems.

"I think the George Osborne confrontation should be matched by the trade unions, as they are, saying 'We want to talk and get this sorted out'. I hope that can work."