Chuka Umunna, the political chameleon who failed to hit the heights

Chuka Umunna was once considered such a breath of fresh air that he was dubbed the “British Obama”.

Now, like his Stateside counterpart, he is no longer on the front line of politics.

But unlike the former US president, Mr Umunna failed to scale anywhere near the same heights on this side of the Atlantic.

But it was not without trying.

There was a time, long before Jeremy Corbyn’s name became known beyond the backbenches, when he was considered the party’s next great leader, an accomplished politician in the mould of Tony Blair.

Change UK rally
Chuka Umunna speaking at a Change UK rally (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

But he dramatically quit the race to succeed the lacklustre Ed Miliband in 2015, citing “very real concerns and worry about this bid’s impact on those close to me”, despite being the front-runner.

In a statement at the time, Mr Umunna said: “One can imagine what running for leader can be like, understand its demands and the attention but nothing compares to actually doing it and the impact on the rest of one’s life.

“Consequently, after further reflection I am withdrawing my candidacy.”

Sources close to Mr Umunna insisted that his withdrawal was not due to any negative story which he expected to appear in the media, although he was uncomfortable with the increased level of scrutiny which had been directed at him and members of his family, including his mother.

General Election 2019
The Streatham MP later defected to the Liberal Democrat (Aaron Chown/PA)

A polished media performer, the former employment lawyer’s background as the son of a Nigerian father and English-Irish mother gave him a different perspective on immigration.

He was popular in the Streatham constituency he represented since 2010 – a seat which voted nearly 80% in favour of remaining in the EU – but opted to stand for the Cities of London and Westminster in 2019.

His centrist views often put him at loggerheads with Mr Corbyn, as well as with the legion of new, young Labour members.

Mr Umunna left the party for good in February 2019, one of a glut of Labour MPs to defect to the newly formed The Independent Group (TIG), saying the current party system was “broken”.

Critics within Labour said the defection was a result of him realising his dream of party leadership would be on ice while Mr Corbyn was in front-bench politics.

And within months, he defected again, this time joining the Lib Dems, despite previously posting on social media that he “couldn’t forgive them” for austerity during their time as coalition partners with the Conservatives.

In the lead-up to the 2019 General Election, Mr Umunna predicted his new party could “get up to 100 seats” in a forthcoming election.

The exit polls predicted otherwise.

And sadly for Mr Umunna, the Cities of London and Westminster seat in which he stood was not among the party’s successes.

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