Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

A Barack Obama for Britain

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

A Barack Obama for Britain

Article excerpt

Chuka Umunna

Lawyer and prospective parliamentary candidate for Streatham

Chuka Umunna recently bumped into the veteran Liverpool MP Peter Kilfoyle at the Palace of Westminster. Umunna explained that he hoped to enter the Commons at the next election as the Labour MP for Streatham in south London. Kilfoyle asked what he did for a living. When Umunna said that he was in the law, there was a sharp intake of breath from Kilfoyle. "Not another bloody lawyer," he said, before wishing him luck in the appropriate comradely fashion.

At 30, Umunna has already been talked of as a future Labour leader and as "Britain's Obama." Yet, despite his "modernising" credentials, he is fast developing a following on the left of the party. Closely associated with the centre-left Compass group, he is dismissive of the new Labour old guard that has dominated party ideology since the mid-1990s. Last year, he even went so far as to argue that new Labour "at its crudest ... was predicated on a cynicism and a pessimism about the British public". Criticising the tactic of triangulation, Umunna called for Labour to stand up for its core beliefs by making "emotional arguments" for fairness and redistribution, just as Margaret Thatcher had done for the previously unfashionable thinking associated with Hayek and Friedman.

He has advocated windfall taxes on energy companies and supported Jon Cruddas's call for a 45 per cent top rate of income tax for those earning over [pounds sterling] 175,000 a year. Challenged recently by a new Labour architect about his associations with Compass and its dangerous ideas, which would take the party back to the wilderness years, Umunna responded by saying that he was still a toddler in the 1980s, and that, as far as he is concerned, it is now new Labour that is dangerously old-fashioned. …

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