Thursday, 25 September 2014

My LabourUncut piece on Phil Collins' stage interview with Chuka Umunna at Labour Conference

Online here.

Chuka Umunna – A pro on what Labour must be pro if we are to win again

by John Slinger

During Phil Collins’s gentle jousting with Chuka Umunna today, their savvy wit was evident. While light-hearted at times (always a boon at conference) there was much substance.

First dodging the brickbat of why hasn’t Labour apologised more on the economy: “we’ve learnt the lessons of the crash” and the debt and deficit rose due to falling tax receipts not profligacy. This is a line that hasn’t resonated enough yet.

Chuka does the big picture well and was expansive on the three challenges Britain faces: “delivering social democracy in a fiscal cold climate, transformative technology, and global competition”.
Politely disagreeing with a questioner on modern technologies he argued that they shouldn’t be feared and can help “transform public services”.

He’s keen to utilise and promote the dynamic and the new, not build up defensive walls against it. Handing out certificates at school in his patch, he’d told the kids that they’re up against others from “Mumbai and Singapore who perhaps want it more as they’ve had perhaps had to struggle more”. Teachers and parents appreciated the straight-talking about how globalisation cannot be turned back. He’s right: dealing with such challenges starts in the classroom and goes way beyond there.

The wit was there, from Collins of course, but while refuting the “nonsense” charge that Labour isn’t sufficiently pro-business, Chuka reminded all that New Labour weren’t exactly flush with business endorsement in ’97, having been “elated to get Richard Branson on a train with Tony Blair”! It was good to hear what should be both a defence against the anti-business charge, and an attack on the newly the newly rejuvenated europhobes of Cameron’s Tories: that “the biggest concern of British business is our exit from the EU”.

In 2012, he’d chaired an event on entreprensurship and small business for the organisation I chair, Pragmatic Radicalism. What more, I asked, ought all members and CLPs do to reach out to local businesses, not just unions and community groups (vital though this is)? He’d championed Small Business Saturday and flagged up this year’s on 6 December, also CLPs should engage with Business Improvement Districts. I’ve long thought that we can’t just rely on Chuka to defeat the Tory lie that we don’t “get” or like business. We’re the party of work after all.

He touched on last week’s referendum, concluding that we need not just “big ideas” but a “big tent” and reminding us that the1997 tally of 59 southern English Labour MPs now stands at 10.

Of course Chuka wouldn’t be interested in any future leadership election, quipped Collins, to much merriment and wry smiles, but which colleagues “might be contenders”? Cool as a cucumber, Chuka retorted “there’s only one person to look out for: Prime Minister Miliband”! There were smiles too when Collins asked why Len McCluskey got slightly more rapturous applause than greeted him: “Len and I have different roles”. He was respectful but confidently deflected this sidewinder.

We all know Chuka’s a pro. But I’d rather focus on the substance not the style. He set out some things from his portfolio that we as a Labour Party must be “pro” in order to win in May. Pro-business, pro-getting business talking to primary students, pro-entrepreneurship, pro-social enterprise, pro-raising the status of youth workers, pro-straight talking. I forgot one last one…pro-Ed Miliband. Sounds like a winning formula for Chuka and Labour.

**Thank you to the good people at Fujitsu for letting me type this in their zone!**

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant and Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism. He blogs here

My LabourList blog - Recall of Parliament: MPs must redefine the art of the possible

Recall of Parliament: MPs must redefine the art of the possible

SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 2:14 PM
Bismarck said “diplomacy is the art of the possible”. The “possible” exists at the interface between what we should do and what could do. Politicians are not disembodied, disinterested actors. They can and should shape the “possible”. Miliband, Cameron and Clegg are showing the leadership needed. The recall of Parliament tomorrow gives MPs an opportunity to do likewise.
The following counter-factual, or counter-“possible” might help them consider the dilemma of whether Britain should support airstrikes: what would the response be of a government of either party that enjoyed a comfortable working majority following a recently fought election? Such a government would support our action in both Iraq and Syria as necessary and justified on the following grounds.
First, moral: due to the terrorists’ barbaric, genocidal acts which have violated UN-mandated human rights, caused a humanitarian catastrophe and continue to threaten hundreds of thousands.
Second, legal: given the Genocide Convention, which we have signed and whose terms compel us to “punish and protect”, and given both the request for support of the Iraqi government and the illegitimacy of the Assad regime. President Obama, who has done all in his power to avoid intervening, hasn’t regarded a Security Council resolution as a precondition for action.
Third, practical: it can be clearly demonstrated that airstrikes can help contain the terrorists and over time, as shown in Kurdistan following the No Fly Zone, allow civilian populations to flourish.
Fourth, national interest: given the threat posed from returning jihadis, and the clear danger posed to other states of terrorist safe havens being allowed to persist.
Finally, strategic interest: as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, a leading European power and given our desire to maintain our status as America’s closest ally, we would wish to be part of countering perhaps the biggest threat to the region and the world.
However, the context today is that of next May’s election in which the victor may at best win a slim majority. Many MPs are haunted by the ghosts of last summer’s Syria vote and of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and face electors who are at best ambivalent towards intervention. Despite mood music suggesting those MPs who were sceptical last year are now supportive, the Commons may yet reject further military entanglement. This would be a mistake of tragic proportions, most notably for the victims of terrorists, for regional and global security and for our influence in the world.
The best artists of “the possible”, the best leaders, choose not to be wholly defined by the context in which they operate. It takes guts and is risky, but sometimes only by acting can such leaders define “the possible” and change the context. John Major helped Kurdistan remove the yoke of Saddam Hussein’s genocide with the 1991 No Fly Zone and Tony Blair protected Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo.
The recall may be a case study in the eternal politicians’ dilemma of having to choose between doing the right thing and doing what is what is politically expedient and easy. Each MP must show leadership, and vote to do what is moral, legal, practical and in our immediate and long-term interest. Britain must join its allies in launching airstrikes.
John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant.