Both Umunna and Cameron discussed "consensus". Photos: Getty
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Chuka Umunna and David Cameron's consensus on what business rifts mean for Labour

Both the shadow business secretary and Prime Minister suggest how harmful business rifts could be for Ed Miliband.

Watching the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) conference today, the link between David Cameron and Chuka Umunna's speeches to business leaders was striking. Both made points about political consensus on business policy, and it appears they have both concluded what party political business rifts mean: bad news for Labour.

The Prime Minister made a crafty political point when he compared Ed Miliband's attitude to enterprise with those of his predecessors:

I want to say something very frank. I’ve sat in parliament from 2001 to 2015. For the first nine years of that, I had opposite me on those green benches Tony Blair and Gordon Brown . . . and whatever else we disagreed on, we agreed that business is the generator of growth. That long-held consensus in British politics is now over.

His aim was clear: capitalise on the New Labour figures, like Peter Mandelson, who are making unwelcome interventions concerning Miliband's relationship with business, and suggest to the country that there is now only one party on the side of business.

Chuka Umunna also referred to "consensus":

Maybe it's controversial to say this in Westminster – there is a lot more consensus around business policy than [you're] led to believe.

The emphasis of the shadow business secretary's comment, made during a Q+A following his speech, was that the gulf between Labour and Tory approaches to British business is nowhere near as great as suggested by the press and Labour's detractors.

Both seem to subscribe to a consensus on one thing: Labour being perceived as too distant from the Tories, or the previous government, on business could harm the party electorally.

Update 17.14

A source close to Umunna tells me: "The context of Chuka's remarks on consensus was Cameron's overly party political tone. By turning up and making such a party political speech today, and by using Tory donors to attack Labour, he is undermining what business leaders want – political parties working together where they agree, and not simply abolishing what previous governments have done."

Indeed, Umunna mentioned in his speech his "motto" for if he becomes Business Secretary in the next governement: "Continuity wherever possible; change only where necessary." This approach will appeal to a business community exasperated by party politics and the electoral cycle hindering its stability.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.