Chuka Umunna addresses a Labour party rally. Photo:Getty Images
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Why we are endorsing Liz Kendall for the Labour leadership

Chuka Umunna, Emma Reynolds, Stephen Twigg and Jonathan Reynolds - Chuka Umunna's leadership team - explain why they're backing Liz Kendall's campaign for the Labour leadership.

In this time of change our party must move beyond its comfort zone and find new ways of realising its age-old goals of equality and freedom.

The Labour Party’s greatest strength has always been our commitment to a society that is fairer and freer, more equal and more democratic.  Our mission has always been to apply that commitment to the circumstances of our time. Today, when those circumstances are changing increasingly rapidly and old assumptions are breaking down, that task is tougher, and more pressing, than ever.

It is no longer simply enough to get into power and, from Whitehall, pull the old social-democratic levers: tax rates and regulation, welfare payments and tax credits. They have their place but these alone are inadequate to the task of delivering a fair, united society at a time when technology cycles are speeding up, new economic competitors are on the rise and the make-up and identity of our country are evolving. Living up to our age-old mission demands a willingness to grapple with the economic, social and global challenges as they are before us now.

Our movement faces three main, interlocking economic questions that are much more acute now than in the past: How to deliver excellent public services at a time when money is tight? How to harness the technological changes that are disrupting established industries and destroying jobs to create new, better opportunities? And how to remain competitive in a time of globalisation, paying our way in the world over the coming decades?

The answers, too, are interlocking. They include a more creative and strategic relationship between the state and business, a much better use of government’s convening power to channel investment into R&D and a genuinely life-long education system. The only sustainable foundation for Britain’s future prosperity is better productivity and a confident, adaptive workforce - not the private consumption and house price inflation on which our economy has too often been based in the past.

Our movement also faces newly urgent social questions. Building solidarity between different segments of the country is a bigger task today than it was in 1997. The very coherence of the United Kingdom is at risk. Regional identity is becoming more pronounced. In an increasingly diverse society, integration of different communities is ever-more essential. Our ageing population puts new pressures on public services and on the pact between the generations.

As the party that has always stood for a cohesive society, we in Labour must lead the charge in transforming the institutions of our country to keep up with evolving realities. That means reshaping the state: moving towards a more federal United Kingdom, devolving power and money to cities and regions, reforming our electoral system and political bodies to reflect the more open and pluralistic country they represent. And it means a new approach to public services: integrating health, mental health and social care services, starting at “what works” and putting the principles of prevention and innovation at the heart of the welfare state.

As the internationalists of British politics, those who see responsibilities and opportunities beyond our own borders, we in Labour must also champion a new approach to the world stage. Britain is no longer a recent superpower with an automatic claim to a place at the top table of nations, but a country with a moderately large population that must earn its right to that place. As CNN’s Fareed Zakaria wrote last week, Britain “has essentially resigned as a global power” under David Cameron - but is “even now, a country with the talent, history and capacity to shape the international order.”

So let our party lead this argument for a smart and engaged use of Britain’s vast soft power, its military expertise and specialisms and the versatility and reach that come from its unique network of alliances. We should, for example, fight to stay in the EU not just out of economic, transactional reasons but as part of a bigger, emotional, fundamentally optimistic vision of Britain’s future: as a country that chooses prosperity, security and geopolitical influence over an isolation that (as Zakaria concludes) would be bad not just for us, but for the world as a whole.

The job for the next Labour leader is to weave these imperatives, economic, social and global, into a credible national story of a country proud of its history and confident of owning the future. A vision of a Britain in which all can get on, whose citizens are financially secure and in control of their lives and happiness - and are, collectively, secure and effective in the wider world. A vision both rooted in the party’s eternal values and alive to the complexities and realities of the context in which we must now realise them.

For us, our next leader must get this vision right. On all these big subjects, Liz Kendall has asked the tough questions and started to chart a course to the answers. She has been courageous in challenging conventional wisdom. She has no compunction in moving Labour beyond our comfort zone and is determined to build a team ready to chart a route forward. This is exactly what our party needs and that is why we are nominating her to be the next leader of the Labour Party.

Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham & Shadow Business Secretary

Emma Reynolds, Labour MP for Wolverhampton North East & Shadow Communities Secretary

Jonathan Reynolds, Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde & Shadow Climate Change Minister

Stephen Twigg, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby & Shadow Justice Minister

Chuka Umunna is Labour MP for Streatham.

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A small dose of facts could transform Britain's immigration debate

While "myth-busting" doesn't always work, there is an appetite for a better informed conversation than the one we're having now. 

For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain. At the same time, public understanding of the economic and social impacts of immigration is poor and strongly influenced by the media: people consistently over-estimate the proportion of the population born outside the UK and know little about policy measures such as the cap on skilled non-EU migration. The public gets it wrong on other issues too - on teenage pregnancy, the Muslim population of the UK and benefit fraud to name just three. However, in the case of immigration, the strength of public opinion has led governments and political parties to reformulate policies and rules. Theresa May said she was cracking down on “health tourists” not because of any evidence they exist but because of public “feeling”. Immigration was of course a key factor in David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU and has been central to his current renegotiations.  

Do immigration facts always make us more stubborn and confused?

The question of how to both improve public understanding and raise the low quality of the immigration debate has been exercising the minds of those with a policy and research interest in the issue. Could the use of facts address misconceptions, improve the abysmally low quality of the debate and bring evidence to policy making? The respected think tank British Future rightly warns of the dangers associated with excessive reliance on statistical and economic evidence. Their own research finds that it leaves people hardened and confused. Where does that leave those of us who believe in informed debate and evidence based policy? Can a more limited use of facts help improve understandings and raise the quality of the debate?

My colleagues Jonathan Portes and Nathan Hudson-Sharp and I set out to look at whether attitudes towards immigration can be influenced by evidence, presented in a simple and straightforward way. We scripted a short video animation in a cartoon format conveying some statistics and simple messages taken from research findings on the economic and social impacts of immigration.

Targeted at a wide audience, we framed the video within a ‘cost-benefit’ narrative, showing the economic benefits through migrants’ skills and taxes and the (limited) impact on services. A pilot was shown to focus groups attended separately by the general public, school pupils studying ‘A’ level economics and employers.

Some statistics are useful

To some extent our findings confirm that the public is not very interested in big statistics, such as the number of migrants in the UK. But our respondents did find some statistics useful. These included rates of benefit claims among migrants, effects on wages, effects on jobs and the economic contribution of migrants through taxes. They also wanted more information from which to answer their own questions about immigration. These related to a number of current narratives around selective migration versus free movement, ‘welfare tourism’ and the idea that our services are under strain.

Our research suggests that statistics can play a useful role in the immigration debate when linked closely to specific issues that are of direct concern to the public. There is a role for careful and accurate explanation of the evidence, and indeed there is considerable demand for this among people who are interested in immigration but do not have strong preconceptions. At the same time, there was a clear message from the focus groups that statistics should be kept simple. Participants also wanted to be sure that the statistics they were given were from credible and unbiased sources.

The public is ready for a more sophisticated public debate on immigration

The appetite for facts and interest in having an informed debate was clear, but can views be changed through fact-based evidence? We found that when situated within a facts-based discussion, our participants questioned some common misconceptions about the impact of immigration on jobs, pay and services. Participants saw the ‘costs and benefits’ narrative of the video as meaningful, responding particularly to the message that immigrants contribute to their costs through paying taxes. They also talked of a range of other economic, social and cultural contributions. But they also felt that those impacts were not the full story. They were also concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on communities, where issues become more complex, subjective and intangible for statistics to be used in a meaningful way.

Opinion poll findings are often taken as proof that the public cannot have a sensible discussion on immigration and the debate is frequently described as ‘toxic’. But our research suggests that behind headline figures showing concern for its scale there may be both a more nuanced set of views and a real appetite for informed discussion. A small dose of statistics might just help to detoxify the debate. With immigration a deciding factor in how people cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum there can be no better time to try.