Lord Heseltine, the former Tory deputy prime minister who championed the regeneration of Britain’s inner cities in the 1980s, is being lined up by the shadow business secretary to advise Labour in government.
In a sign of how some Labour figures will try to revive the “big tent” approach of Tony Blair, Chuka Umunna described Heseltine as a visionary who could advise him on plans for the further devolution of power to the English cities and regions.
“There is no denying it, a lot of people in the Labour movement are quite inspired by what he’s done in rejuvenating cities and regions,” he told the Guardian. “Just because he is a Tory should not stand in the way of us working with him in the future and I very much hope to do that.”
Umunna, who is expected to be appointed business secretary if Labour wins the election, hopes Heseltine would advise him on the distribution of £30bn the party plans to earmark for devolution to the cities and regions. Heseltine proposed in a 2011 report for the chancellor, George Osborne, that £49bn administered by central government and £9bn in EU funding should be put into a similar pot.
Osborne used that report as the basis for his “northern powerhouse” initiative, which has led to the devolution of major powers to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). Umunna aims to go much further than Osborne with Labour’s £30bn devolved funding pot. In government, the party would allow local authorities that combine forces to retain 100% of the additional business rates revenue generated in their area.
Labour also hopes to sign up the business secretary, Vince Cable, and his predecessor Lord Mandelson. “Michael was a visionary,” Umanna said. “There’s no doubt about that and he fought battles with the right of his party like Michael Portillo against active government and I believe in active government, which is different from intervention. Active government is working in partnership with the private sector.”
Umunna said the devolution of powers to the cities and regions of England would go further than Osborne’s northern powerhouse and would mark one of the most radical steps of a Labour government. “I don’t just want to see Scotland having devolved powers. I think it’s time for all parts of the UK to have that, a federal structure,” Umunna said. “Just strip away what’s done at the centre.”
Umunna said the election was close but “ours to win” in light of what he describes as a hubristic Tory campaign and Ed Miliband’s success on the campaign trail. “I think momentum is with us and we’re not complacent,” he said.
“This is the difference. You saw hubris on the part of the Tories coming into this election; you saw humility on the part of the Labour party. Hubris from a Tory party that forgot it had not won a general election since 1992, humility on the part of the Labour party which recognised that it went down to its second worst defeat in history in 2010 and needed to listen and learn from people which is what we’ve done during our time in opposition.”
Umunna drew a distinction between Tony Blair’s intervention in favour of Britain’s EU membership and the warning by Sir John Major that a possible post-election deal between Labour and the Scottish National party could threaten the future of the UK. “I think Tony Blair’s intervention on Europe was somewhat more effective than John Major’s intervention on the SNP.”
Umunna gave a flavour of the political reforms a Labour cabinet would implement including Miliband’s plans for a people’s question time and an overhaul of some of the traditional features of parliament such as the portcullis.
He said: “The portcullis is a symbol for what is the problem. It is a gate that stops people going through and that’s symbolic of the way the institution and the architecture of the place operates so as to lock people out, it switches people off. They switch on, zone out and then switch off because they don’t like the way we do things.”
This article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 24th April 2015 15.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010