Chuka Umunna addresses a Labour party rally. Photo:Getty Images
Show Hide image

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 and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496