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    Labour MP Chuka Umunna, center, speaks to the media during a press conference with a group of six other Labour MPs, in London, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019.

    Chuka Chucks in the Towel: The Rise and Fall of 'Britain's Obama'

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    In May 2015 Chuka Umunna was the betting favourite to become the next leader of the Labour Party after Ed Miliband quit. Four years later he has just quit the party of quitters. Sputnik looks at where it all went wrong for him.

    Chuka Umunna was once referred to by Wikipedia as a politician who "may end up as the UK's Barack Obama".

    After Ed Miliband resigned in the wake of the 2015 general election defeat by David Cameron, Umunna, then 36, was the hot favourite to become the new leader of the Labour Party.

    He announced his candidature on 12 May 2015 and called on Labour to target "aspirational, middle-class voters" and seemed all set to inherit the mantle of Tony Blair as a neo-liberal, possibly similar to Emmanuel Macron.

    ​Two weeks later he suddenly withdrew from the leadership contest, saying he was "uncomfortable" about the level of scrutiny he and his family were facing from the press.

    He then endorsed Liz Kendall, who was on the right wing of the party.

    ​When Jeremy Corbyn was swept to victory in September 2015 and set the party on course with a left-wing agenda, Umunna was left out in the cold.

    Umunna continually sniped at Corbyn's leadership and found himself at odds with Momentum, who began to dominate his local party in Streatham, south London.

     

    Chuka Umunna MP (left) is one of the seven who have quit the Labour Party
    Chuka Umunna MP (left) is one of the seven who have quit the Labour Party

    In September 2018 Umunna enraged many Labour activists when he called on Corbyn to "call off the dogs".

    Umunna would have almost certainly been deselected as the Labour candidate in Streatham, so it was therefore not a great surprise when, in February 2019, he was one of several Labour MPs — along with Luciana Berger, Angela Smith and Mike Gapes — who quit the party ostensibly because they claimed Labour was not tackling anti-Semitism.

    The "awkward squad" was later joined by Tory Remainers Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry and called itself the Independent Group, later renamed Change UK.

    ​Umunna and the others refused calls by angry constituents that they call by-elections, knowing they would lose their seats.

    Change UK set out a centrist pro-Remain agenda and its hopes were high going into last month's European elections.

    But the party — ironically known by its shortened acronym CHUK — won only 3.4 percent of the vote and most Remainers chose to vote Liberal Democrat, Green or Labour rather than for Umunna's mob. 

    The bickering within Change UK, which had begun before the results came out, exploded into the open this week and on Tuesday 4 June Umunna and five others — Allen, Wollaston, Smith, Berger and Gavin Shuker — quit the party and said they would be "returning to supporting each other as an independent grouping of MPs".

    ​Umunna put out a statement on his own website saying: "I am clear that there is currently not one single force in the Remain movement or in the centre ground that can stop Brexit or break the two-party system on its own. The movement built around Change UK has an important role to play in this. However, whilst I believe it should carry on as an organisation, I do not believe Change UK should carry on in its current form. This has put me in a fundamentally different place not only to other Change UK parliamentary colleagues but also it's activists and candidates who should be free to take the party in the direction they wish. Consequently, with a heavy heart, I have decided to leave the party and to return to sitting as an independent MP in the House of Commons for the time being."

    Soubry, who has now become the leader of the rump Change UK, said she was "deeply disappointed".

    ​There had been widespread speculation that Allen and some of the others would defect to the Liberal Democrats.

    The outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable, said his party's "door was always open" if they wanted to join.

    Sir Vince said: "I don't want to gloat over their failure. It was a failure, but we have got to move on and I want to be positive about it."

    Change UK has clearly failed even more spectacularly than the Social Democratic Party did in the 1980s.

    So Chuka Umunna, who was dubbed as the bright young thing of British politics a decade, finds himself sitting with a group of six MPs, doomed to oblivion at the next general election, instead of leading one of the two traditional parties of government in Britain.

    Oh, and that Wikipedia entry from 2008 which heralded him as "Britain's Obama" turned out to have been created on a computer at the law firm where Umunna worked.

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    Tags:
    remainers, split, Change UK, Labour Party, Chuka Umunna, Jeremy Corbyn, United Kingdom
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