The only poll that will really matter, Chuka Umunna said rightly at last night’s In Conversation With event chaired by John Rentoul, is the way in which people vote on 7 May 2015. With less than six months to go until the general election, the shadow secretary of state for business laid out a convincing vision for the future of our country.
We should make the emotional and intellectual case for Europe. Our membership of the European Union is ‘unarguably good’ for the British economy, as can be verified by the overwhelming consensus of business leaders. The best way to pursue reform of the EU is ‘to stay in the field, not off the field’.
On the euro
Umunna is firmly opposed to Britain joining the euro. He confessed this is a change of heart as he used to believe the euro would be good for the economy. The reality of monetary union inevitably leading to fiscal union resulting in an erosion of national sovereignty, he argues, is just a price not worth paying.
The United Kingdom Independence party is a ‘massive con’. The way it has hijacked the national discourse is very frustrating finds Umunna. If we are no longer members of the EU we will still be subject to the same rules and regulations when trading with our EU trading partners – just that we will have no say in them whatsoever. The best way, therefore, to ensure the EU works in our interests is to be at the centre of Europe as a positive advocate of reform. He also added quite fittingly that it is rather anti-British to be anti-immigrant as it goes against our British values of freedom, tolerance and respect.
On government’s role in the economy
Government has a benign role to play. Labour does not believe in a big state, Umunna argues, rather an enterprising state. We have to be ‘masters of growth’ and do everything possible in order to help small businesses ‘make their first million’, Umunna said, promoting the ideas of aspiration and prosperity.
George Osborne wants to shrink the size of the state. However, Umunna views this as ‘fantasy economics’. It is less of a question for Umunna of how big the state is but more about what you can do with it to improve the lives of millions. Contrary to what the Tories keep repeating over and over again, business does want government to be actively involved in the economy: requests for additional infrastructure, better skills training, the creation of catalyst centres and more.
On the deficit
There is nothing socially democratic at all to spend more on debt repayments than on housing and transport. Labour in local government has shown it is possible to pursue social justice even in a fiscally cold climate without spending more money than it receives. For instance, in Plymouth the council has teamed up with local housing associations in order to create 1,000 new homes while in Lambeth the council has used disused parts of housing estates innovatively for the benefit of the local community.
On Tony Blair
Chuka: It is odd not to have dialogue with our most successful leader ever.
At the final event in Progress’s In Conversation With series, Umunna demonstrated unequivocally that Labour means business. The credible – and fully costed – vision and policy package which he outlined shows that Labour is the only party which can deliver social justice and prosperity for the many.
In order to win the next election, the party must be sure to promote a pro-business, pro-worker agenda. By pushing the ideas of aspiration, prosperity and innovation which Umunna did so eloquently at this event, Labour will show to the British people it is the party for the mainstream. Labour is ready to be the party of government once more.
Gurjinder Dhaliwal is a member of Progress. He tweets @GtheG
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