The first drama of the Labour leadership election was the surprise announcement that one of the favourites Chuka Umanna has withdrawn. Along with the non-entry of Dan Jarvis into the race for family reasons, this denies Labour of two of its most interesting characters for the same reason!
The withdrawal is a worrying spotlight into the tactics and intrusion suffered by politicians (amongst others I fully accept) into their personal and family life. Why on earth were journalists doorstepping such a wide range of his family? It wasn’t for a cup of tea and a nice chat. These are not pleasant people who do this. They have headlines to create and are under a lot of pressure to deliver the killer story. As anybody who has suffered the intrusion of the national press will tell you they don’t understand the word NO or even just leave us alone.
I have a great deal of sympathy for Chuka. I only ever got one weekend of this in 2003 over Iraq but it is unbelievable. I had not made up my mind about him, as I have never met him personally. I have heard the usual stories repeated by the press about him being aloof – but I have seen him operate during the election and liked his calm and approachable manner. He has – or had a bright future. He is a bit *too* smooth for my liking but this is something that can be easily managed as he learns to communicate with a wider audience.
More worryingly it does restrict our choice. Can we only have politicians who are prepared not to have had normal lives – even before they enter the political arena!
One of the (many) reasons I was not interested in going further than being a humble back bench MP was seeing the lifestyles endured by even junior ministers and Ministers I served as a PPS. One of my great pleasures in life has been playing rugby as many will know! Throughout my time as an MP I wanted to carry on as much of my previous life as possible. So I carried on playing for Birstall RFC most weekends. I didn’t need an expensive focus group as 20 minutes in the changing room and bar were a great insight into what the lads thought of the previous political week. But a couple of friends who I also knew played sport still took the decision they were going to give it up in a push to become Ministers. To be fair they put in the extra hours and focus and made it. One lost in 2010 but another is still making good progress. They have their Ministerial experience and I am still playing rugby. I have no regrets. I am sure they have none either. But it does show that to make it to the top requires such a level of dedication that too much normal life is given up for my liking. It is little wonder that politicians seem out of touch when they are created as mini-celebrities and not allowed to live normal life – with all its ups and downs. It would be great for politicians to be allowed a proper balance, The march of the professionalisation of politics continues. And that is not good.
Below is the statement form Chuka Umanna
“Shortly before the election campaign, I made the decision, in the event that Labour was defeated and a new Leader was to be elected, to stand for the leadership of the party if there was a desire in the party for me to do so.
“I dearly hoped Labour would win the election and it was a decision I would not have to implement.
“I also thought I understood the scrutiny and attention a leadership contest would bring.
“As a member of the Shadow Cabinet, I am used to a level of attention which is part and parcel of the job. I witnessed the 2010 leadership election process close up and thought I would be comfortable with what it involved.
“However since the night of our defeat last week I have been subject to the added level of pressure that comes with being a leadership candidate.
“I have not found it to be a comfortable experience.
“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.
“I apologise to all those who have kindly supported and encouraged me to do this and for disappointing them. I know this will come as I surprise to many but I had always wondered whether it was all too soon for me to launch this leadership bid – I fear it was.
“Most importantly, I continued to have very real concerns and worry about this bid’s impact on those close to me.
“I intend to carry on playing my full role as a proud member of our Shadow Cabinet taking on the Tories. I also hope to play a leading role in Labour’s campaign to keep the UK in the EU during the forthcoming referendum which is absolutely crucial. Most importantly, I will as ever continue to serve the area I know and love – the Streatham parliamentary constituency.”