Both Umunna and Cameron discussed "consensus". Photos: Getty
Show Hide image

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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.