Labour 'aims to boost middle class'

Shadow cabinet member Chuka Umunna has said he "doesn't have a problem with people making a lot of money" and suggested that Labour wants to increase the size of the middle class and "help people make their first million".

Chuka Umunna said he has no problem with people earning a lot of money
Chuka Umunna said he has no problem with people earning a lot of money

His comments, in The House magazine, represent an effort to shake off accusations that Labour is an "anti-rich" party, and will inevitably revive memories of former minister Lord Mandelson's Blair-era remark that he was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes".

Under Ed Miliband's leadership, Labour has faced taunts from the Conservatives that it has lost the backing from business enjoyed by Tony Blair.

But the shadow business secretary insisted the party was not going to get into an "arms race" with Tories over how many businessmen they could get to sign letters of support in the press, and said that entrepreneurs' buccaneering spirit was "very much in tune with Labour values".

He also challenged Chancellor George Osborne's announcement that Conservatives want to be the party of full employment, claiming that Labour was "more ambitious" in wanting to increase the number of middle-class, middle-income jobs, rather than simply swelling the ranks of low-paid and low-skilled workers.

"We are determined to ensure we get an economy that builds out our middle class and the number of middle-income jobs that we have," said Mr Umunna. "The problem with our economy is, in relation to the other OECD economies, we have a disproportionately high incidence of low-paid and low-skilled work.

"Growing the number of middle-incomes jobs - that for us, in this new era, is the new project. If, in 1945, Labour was committed to and argued for full employment, we've moved beyond that now. George Osborne can move to a 1945 position - we are moving to a 2030 position."

Labour's aspiration is to "reduce the percentage of low pay, low-skilled work in our labour market, increase the number of middle-income, highly-skilled jobs", he said.

Mr Umunna rejected suggestions that Labour was anti-business or anti-wealth, saying that entrepreneurs were "keeping the economy going".

"I don't have a problem with people making a lot of money, so long as they pay their taxes and it's good for our economy," he said.

"Two-thirds of private sector jobs come from small and medium-sized businesses and it's tough out there. I speak to lots of business owners who pay themselves less than they pay their employees. They are keeping the economy going."

He added: "I'm very clear: we want to help people make their first million. If you set up a start-up and you increase you turnover to over a million, you will be employing people and delivering tax receipts to the Exchequer and helping Britain pay its way in the world. We should be saying that."

Mr Umunna said that there was "something about the buccaneering spirit of the entrepreneur which is very much in tune with Labour values", as "we've always been a party that is aspirational and looks to help people achieve their dreams and their aspirations".

He distanced himself from Labour critics of the £3 million-a-year salary earned by new Culture Secretary Sajid Javid in the City before entering Parliament.

"I don't have a problem with the fact that Sajid earned millions of pounds working in the City before he was elected," he said. "I have more of a problem with what he stands for and what he believes in and that's what the focus should be."