Is Britain soon to have a mixed-race main political party leader and, potentially, prime minister?
May 12, 2015
Chuka Umunna, 36, has announced his plan to run for the position of Labour party leader
Today Labour MP and shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna announced his intentions to run for the role of Labour leader. Sharing the news via a video on Facebook, Mr Umunna, who the bookies already had down as a favourite possible replacement for Ed Milliband (health secretary Andy Burnham is second favourite), said: “I’m pleased to day to be announcing that I will be standing for the leadership of the party.” He added, “North, South, East, West we can absolutely do it as a party.”
Mr Umunna also dismissed claims that it will take the Labour party approximately ten years to recover from their recent slaughter at the elections, expressing his confidence that Labour can be back on top form within a much shorter time frame. “Some have in recent days now suggested it is a 10-year project to get the party back into power. I don’t think we should have any truck with that. I think Labour can do it in five years,” said the MP for Streatham.
The video that Mr Umunnna released on Facebook today
36-year-old Umunna certainly has a certain slickness that Ed Milliband was somewhat lacking.
What's more, Umunna's relatively young age seems to have given him the genuine understanding of, and ability to sympathise with, the issues that matter to young people; this could prove to be a significant advantage for the Streatham MP if he does make it to the next election. Appearing regularly on political TV broadcasts, writing newspaper articles and very much visible in his constituency, Mr Umunna seems to shine in the limelight in a way that Milliband never quite could. Just the fact that Mr Umunna made his intentions to run for Labour leader known via Facebook testifies to his refreshing relevance in the contemporary day.
Also setting Umunna apart from many of his colleagues is his background, which lends itself to his generally centre-left position. The shadow business secretary was born to a Nigerian father who came to the UK financially broke but worked tirelessly to become a highly successful businessman. With Umunna’s mother, a lawyer, they raised Chuka in the south London borough in which he today serves as MP. Mr Umunna attended two states schools in Lambeth before moving to a private school in Catford. Unlike so many of his peers Umunna did not attend Oxbridge, receiving his law degree from the University of Manchester.
Ummuna’s rise within the political ranks has certainly been impressive. In 2010 he was elected as Streatham MP and also chosen to be a member of the Treasury Select Committee. Just a year later Umunna welcomed new responsibilities as Shadow Minister for Small Business and Enterprise.
In the past Umunna has been dubbed as the “British Obama” but that always seemed an incredibly shallow and cliché comparison given that the two share little other than being mixed-race politicians with an interest in law. But Umunna’s race certainly cannot be entirely overlooked and brushed aside when considering what it would mean for him to be chosen as the Labour leader. It would be a new milestone in British politics if a non-white person was elected as Labour leader, let alone as prime minister. Labour, with its more progressive and liberal attitudes to race and immigration, has traditionally been the party that minority voters have thrown their support behind so it seems fitting that Labour will likely be the first major political party in the UK to elect a non-white leader. Given Labour’s left-leaning political ideology it seems reasonable to assume that Mr Umunna’s race would not hinder – but, possibly even improve – his chances of winning the leadership battle, and occupying the role which has not belonged to an ethnic minority or female politician for far too long.
Last month David Cameron was trying to convince minority voters that the Conservatives were the party for them, saying: ‘‘We’re the party of the first female prime minister. The party of the first Jewish prime minister. And I know that, one day, we’re going to be the party of the first black or Asian prime minister." It looks like Mr Cameron (although he did not specifically mention a future mixed-race prime minister) may well be proven wrong if Mr Umunna proves he has what it takes to be a great leader over the next few years.