The man who would be leader

Submitted by Matthew on 10 September, 2014 - 11:40 Author: Jon Lansman

The Labour MP for Streatham and Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna was interviewed in the September issue of GQ:

“Gordon Brown dealt a blow to Labour’s economic credibility by wrongly giving the impression in his final year as prime minister that the party failed to understand the importance of tackling Britain’s unprecedented peacetime budget deficit, the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, has suggested.”

What he is quoted as saying amounts to:

“My view is that the seeds were sown under the last government and Gordon [Brown] – for whom I have a lot of respect. His refusal to use the word ‘cuts’ in trying to frame the economic debate as investment versus cuts gave the impression we didn’t understand that debt and deficit would have to be dealt with.”

The tactics are pretty standard. Don’t say too much. Include something contradictory (his “respect” for Gordon) and leave the real punchlines to the spin doctor.

But kicking Brown and underlying the need for cuts is not enough for this positioning exercise for a future leadership candidate. He has to seek positive identification with his target audience:

“I do think we need to talk more proudly about our record. We do need to explain and rebut this notion that we crashed the car … My main argument in my conference speech was that we did not crash the car. Labour left the country in a far better state, and I say it all the time.”

The combination of stressing the importance of being “proud of our record” whilst kicking Brown makes clear that it is the Blairite record of which we must be proud.

The Blairites wanted austerity [in 2010] and they want it now.

And Chuka Umunna is making clear that he is the candidate to take on the task should one be needed anytime soon.

You would have thought that eight months from a general election and so soon after the Tories have suffered their worst and most damaging setback for sometime with the defection to UKIP of Douglas Carswell was not the time to be publicly preparing your future challenge for Labour’s leadership.

Still, at least Chukka isn’t quite as “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich“ as his friend Peter (to whom he is “intensely relaxed” about being compared), at least not yet, anyway:

“I have nothing against people who earn large amounts of money for creating jobs and wealth and taking risks in our country,’ Umunna insists, ‘but I didn’t feel that giving 14,000 millionaires a £40,000 tax cut was the right priority for us at this juncture [my emphasis - JL].’ “

Meanwhile, as reported in the Times (2 September) Umunna has accepted and received a donation of £2,500 for the running of his personal office from chartered tax advisers Signature Tax.

The company’s website describes its services as “a progressive tax planning boutique delivering tailored tax solutions to individuals and organisations internationally“.

According to their website, Signature Tax provides specialist advice on off-shore tax arrangements such as those Chuka has previously advised Barclays bank to close down, to clients who are subject to HMRC investigations, and on structures designed to avoid HMRC’s Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes regulations.

In the period before he was elected as an MP in 2010, when he presented himself as on the left, Chuka Umunna described tax avoidance as “daylight robbery” and pushed for an end to the tax loopholes whose promoters now fund his activities speaking for Labour on business, innovation, trade and regulation.

His office (like those of Ed Balls and Jim Murphy) has also “benefited” in the last year from the secondment of research assistance by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) to the value of over £60,000.

Given that Chuka Umunna has previously been accused of double standards because his family home had been purchased through a trust based in Jersey which Chuka has himself described as a “well-known tax haven”, you might have expected more discretion.

When it came to taking money from the trade unions, Chuka Umunna told the Today programme on Radio 4:

“I think undoubtedly … we’re going to take a hit in terms of our finances… We will see [how much], but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right thing to do.”

But when it comes to taking money from those who help the tax dodgers dodge their tax, “doing the right thing” doesn’t seem to count for as much.

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