Chuka Umunna speaks at the Labour conference in Manchester in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why Chuka Umunna is "intensely relaxed" about being compared to Peter Mandelson

The shadow business secretary admires the New Labour godfather as a champion of industrial activism. 

Chuka Umunna's interview with The House Magazine, in which he remarked, "I don’t have a problem with people making a lot of money, so long as they pay their taxes and it’s good for our economy", has raised eyebrows among some Labour MPs today. The line was a knowing echo of Peter Mandelson's declaration in 1998 that he was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich" (adding "as long as they pay their taxes"), a quote frequently held up as evidence of New Labour's damaging infatuation with the wealthy.

Mandelson has been one of the most prominent critics of Ed Miliband's leadership, attacking policies such as the energy price freeze and criticising his left-wing direction. When asked during the Labour leadership contest whether he would have the former Business Secretary in his shadow cabinet, Miliband (who Umunna voted for) replied: "I think all of us believe in dignity in retirement", prompting Mandelson to later comment: "I felt hurt, I felt denigrated by some of Ed Miliband’s remarks. I mean talking about me in terms of 'dignity in retirement', I felt as if I was being unfairly treated and packed off rather prematurely to an old folk’s home." He added: "To define himself against New Labour, as opposed to being a development of New Labour, was electorally unwise."

But sources close to Umunna told me today that he was "intensely relaxed" (boom boom) about being compared to Mandelson. One said: "Chuka regularly speaks to Peter and he - alongside Hezza [Michael Heseltine] - is generally seen as the most successful Business Secretary of recent times. His period at BIS provides a fantastic model of industrial strategy and activism which we would want to follow and emulate." He also rightly noted that few recall Mandelson's proviso that the "filthy rich" must "pay their taxes". 

Umunna is certainly right to draw inspiration from Mandelson, who rescued and revitalised the British car industry, and from Michael Heseltine (whom I recently interviewed), another champion of industrial activism and one of the most creative Secretaries of State of the last 50 years (it's worth reading Andrew Adonis's NS tribute to him). He said of the latter: "I think in many respects, if we can build more consensus and actually acknowledge where we agree, when you disagree with the other side you actually have more credibility. I think people find that refreshing, and I think we should do more of it."

As for Umunna's echo of Mandelson's "filthy rich" quip, although the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph suggest that his remarks place him at odds with Miliband, it's worth noting that Miliband himself made a similar point in his speech on responsibility in 2011. He said: "We were intensely relaxed about what happened at the top of society. 

"I say - no more  We must create a boardroom culture that rewards wealth creation, not failure. 

"To those entrepreneurs and business people who generate wealth, create jobs and deserve their top salaries, I’m not just relaxed about you getting rich, I applaud you. 
 
"But every time a chief executive gives himself a massive pay rise - more than he deserves or his company can bear - it undermines trust at every level of society.
 
"We cannot and we must not be relaxed about that." 
 
Umunna's declaration that the rich deserve their rewards provided that "pay their taxes" and that their actions benefit the economy (a stipulation that Mandelson did not make) is entirely consistent with Miliband's responsible capitalism agenda. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The government has quietly shut the door on vulnerable child refugees

The government has tried to halt the Dubs Amendment, a scheme designed to save thousands of vulnerable child refugees.  

The "Dubs Amendment" to the Immigration Bill of last year, in which the government begrudgingly promised to accept 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from other countries in Europe, was halted this month after only 350 children had been admitted.

It has since become absolutely clear that the government is wriggling out of its obligation to accept child refugees, shutting the door on the most vulnerable. 

The amendment was named after my Labour colleague in the House of Lords. Alfred Dubs, who grew up in Britain and was saved from the hands of the German Nazi regime by Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children virtually single-handedly from Czechoslovakia.

The decision – announced at a time when the media was mainly concentrating on Brexit - has since been the source of much outcry both within Parliament and beyond. People across Britain are clear that the government must end these efforts to prevent refugees arriving here, and this is not who we as a society are.

Labour simply cannot accept the government’s decision, which seems to breach the spirit of the law passed with cross-party support. I have challenged Home Secretary Amber Rudd on the issue. 

The government's actions have also been criticised by Yvette Cooper, who heads Labour’s refugee task force and the Home Affairs select committee, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who called it “a clear dereliction of the UK’s moral and global duty”. 

Then at the recent Bafta awards, a number of those in attendance including the actor Viggo Mortensen, also wore lapel badges reading “Dubs now”.

And we have seen more than 200 high-profile public figures including Ralph Fiennes, Keira Knightley, Sir Mark Rylance, Gary Lineker, Michael Morpurgo and the band Coldplay write to Theresa May calling on her government not to close the scheme, decrying the decision as “truly shameful” and adding that “the country we know and love is better than this". 

As the letter states, it is embarrassing, that this government cannot match even Winton’s total. As his own daughter put it in her letter to the Prime Minister, “I know we can’t take in every unaccompanied child in Europe, but I suppose there was a sense when the government accepted the Dubs Amendment that they would make a bigger contribution than they have.”

We need to be clear that where safe and legal routes are blocked for these children, they are left with a terrible choice between train tracks on the one hand, and people traffickers on the other. These children have been identified as the most vulnerable in the world, including girls without parents, who are susceptible to sex traffickers.

The government’s decision is particularly disappointing in that we know that many local authorities across Britain, which assume responsibility for the children once they are admitted to the country, are willing to accept more refugees.

Yet the public outcry shows we can still force a change.

Interestingly, former Conservative minister Nicky Morgan has argued that: “Britain has always been a global, outward-facing country as well as being compassionate to those who need our help most. The Conservative party now needs to demonstrate that combination in our approach to issues such as the Dubs children.”

Let’s keep the pressure up on this vital issue. The internationally agreed principles and the Dubs Amendment were never conceived as a “one-off” - they should continue to commit to meeting their international treaty obligations and our own laws.

And on our part, Labour commits to meeting the obligations of the Dubs Amendment. We will restore the scheme and accept some of the most vulnerable children in the world.

 

Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and shadow home secretary. She was previously shadow secretary for health.