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.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.