Chuka Umunna – 2012 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, to the 2012 Labour Party conference.

Conference, my late father arrived in this country in the mid-1960s from Nigeria. It was the Labour Party that insisted he – and others like him – should be able to pursue their aspirations and dreams free from prejudice.

My mother, who comes from an altogether different background, benefited from the right to equal pay at work after she graduated in the 1970s, again, thanks to this Labour Party.

You see, this party has given me, my family – all of our families – so much. That is why we all join the Labour Party – to put something back.

And I never forget that those who founded our party in every sense of these words: built Britain.

They built the mills, the factories, the railways and the roads.

They built our hospitals, our homes and our schools.

They made our success as a country possible.

That is why we – Labour – have always insisted that those who put in the hard work should be able to share in the fruits of our success.

It is why we – Labour – have always insisted people should have the right to fair and decent treatment at work.

Fair opportunity, shared responsibility, wealth creation for the good of all – it’s in our DNA.

So, more than a million new businesses created during our 13 years in government.

And when we left office:

–    rated 4th in the world for ease of doing business;

–    the lowest barriers to entrepreneurship in the OECD.

That is a record to be proud of.

And I follow in the footsteps of John Denham – big shoes to fill. Thank you, John, for all the advice and support you have given me.

I want to pay tribute too to our fantastic Shadow Business team for all their hard work:

–    listening to business up and down the country;

–    setting the agenda;

–    exposing the failings of the Tory-led Government.

When this Government took over in May 2010, they embarked on an irresponsible experiment with people’s livelihoods.

If you took a risk, set up your own business, they pulled the rug from under you, with confidence nose-diving as a result of their spending review.

Fifty businesses a day are going bust under this government – dreams crushed, boarded up.

And because it is our businesses which create jobs, it is little wonder that as firms have gone under unemployment has soared beyond 2.5 million people.

In my constituency, long term youth unemployment has more than tripled in the last year.

That is the price of their failed experiment.

And let us be clear: David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, and Vince Cable.

You are all in this together.

Co-authors of a failed economic plan. The longest double dip recession since the War.

It is not like they have not been warned by Ed Balls and Rachel Reeves.

But they refuse to listen.

Directionless and divided, we have seen chaos heaped upon confusion.

Delays in delivery summed up by their flagship Regional Growth Fund.

The uncertainty they have caused is holding back investment – from defence to renewables, higher education to energy.

Our business leaders and our trade unions are united in telling them we need a proper plan for growth. But out-of-touch Ministers rubbish them and accuse them of being whingers.

It’s the same old Tories playing the same old tunes:

–    they insult the British people by claiming the economy is being held back by your rights at work;

–    they say working people are lazy;

–    business leaders aren’t doing enough;

–    and those just doing their jobs are plebs.

Everyone is to blame but them.

And, as ever, what is their great solution? A large dose of rampant free market liberalism – deregulate everything, stand aside, and let the market rip.

But if we learned anything from the 2008/09 crash, it is that that approach is wrong.

It won’t solve the problems in our economy, and it won’t address the challenges we face.

Under successive governments growth became concentrated in too few sectors, and in too few regions.

Though productivity rapidly rose during our period in office, rewards were not evenly spread.

And under Labour, strong growth meant employment reached record levels. But still too many people remained distant from the job market, or in insecure employment.

We are determined to learn from this.

Meanwhile, technology is transforming our world and opening up new markets to our businesses.

The rise of those new markets around the world is increasing competition, but it is creating new opportunities on a breathtaking scale too.

We have got to respond to the new landscape and ensure that everyone benefits.

Yes, markets have been the greatest engines of innovation and prosperity the world has ever known.

But we know that, left to their own devices, markets cannot meet these challenges. But nor can governments.

This Government seeks to divide our society – public from private, trade union member from non trade union member, the many from the few.

But here’s the thing. Everyone has a contribution to make to the next chapter of our national story:

–    active government;

–    businesses and entrepreneurs;

–    our trade unions;

–    assertive consumers;

–    our universities and our colleges;

–    our cities, towns and our regions.

All working together in partnership to create wealth and build a better future.

That is why we have been arguing for an active industrial strategy – it is at the heart of the more responsible capitalism Ed Miliband talks about.

We need it to fashion a new economy:

–    An economy competing on quality, creating good jobs – not an insecure economy, competing mostly on low wages;

–    An economy that rewards those that work hard and create sustainable value – not those just out to make a fast buck;

–    An economy offering the opportunities and training not just for young people who want to work in banking, media or law, but also prestigious vocational routes for those eager to become engineers, digital programmers, or advanced manufacturers.

Conference, once more, we must rebuild Britain:

–    Backing British business with a modern industrial strategy, as governments all around the world back their own;

–    Buying from British business, as governments across Europe and around the world buy from their own;

–    Investing in business with a proper British Investment Bank, like every other country in the G8.

This will mean being willing to challenge the way that government itself works with business.

That is why I have asked Lord Adonis to lead a team of business leaders and former Ministers to produce a blueprint to transform the Business Department into the most effective department for enterprise in the world.

Conference, week in week out, I meet businesses and listen to their concerns.

They don’t tell me they want us to step aside.

They tell me they want us to step up, to help them grow and prosper.

We are the only party in this country able to do this because each of us believes that we stand and fall together.

We believe that by the strength of our common endeavour – with our families, our communities, our businesses and our trade unions – we achieve more together than we achieve alone.

That is what our Party is about.

That is what we do.

By continuing to win back the support of the British people, in line with this Party’s great traditions, we will rebuild Britain once more.

Thank you.