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It seems Labour candidate Chuka Ummuna is facing battle with an enthusiastic, if decidedly unsophisticated internet adversary for the seat of Streatham. Streatham Online, a site mysteriously keen on rival Tory candidate Rahoul Bhansali (above), saw fit to post no fewer than five identical comments to my blog in response to an interview with Chuka in February.

The comments were – thoughtfully – a cut-and-paste of material from Streatham Online and contained the immortal line:

What Streatham ultimately needs right now is an ‘Action Man’ who can urgently restore it to it’s Former (Socio-Economic) Glory. [Rahoul Bhansali]

Matters of punctuation aside, the idea that Streatham was once a sprawling Byzantine kingdom of learning and commerce can only be described as highly questionable. Branding your candidate an action man, even in inverted commas, also raises serious issues. While you can’t fault Bhansali’s spin machine for raw energy, Alastair Campbell shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder just yet.

 

 

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These occasional encounters between Harriet Harman and William Hague at PMQs make you wish Gordon Brown would go on holiday more often. It’s like watching a brainless sitcom in the middle of endless news bulletins, or seeing the clowns wander in halfway through a Shakespearean tragedy.

Reliably, today’s joust was high on comedy factor and low on substance. William enjoyed himself; Harriet was cross. This unchanging formula is the basis of every episode. While – like Men Behaving Badly – it starts to get rather worn after a while, you can always be guaranteed a few juvenile laughs.

Things picked up where they left off last time, with Hague asking about the Working Capital Scheme. The scheme is essentially a bit of PR tat which was kicked out by the Labour spin machine last year and forgotten about, making it a useful thorn for the Tories to wiggle once in a while. Harman doggedly refused to answer the question, reeling out the textbook ‘do-nothing party’ riposte with such passion you get the impression she actually believes it’s a useful response.

As usual Hague landed a couple of funny blows, at one point painting a picture of Gordon Brown unpacking his Speedos on a South American beach and pointing out that “inheritance must preoccupy the niece of the Countess of Longford” when Harman brought up tax. You just know there are plenty of Labour backbenchers tittering along with these kinds of jibes.

The fact that these exchanges of puerility are such a welcome break from the usual Brown/Cameron drudgery does say something about the level of national debate, though. When Chuka Ummuna came to talk to our City class a month ago he was all for scrapping PMQs and replacing it with something more likely to fire useful discussion. At the time I dismissed this as nonsense. But in the long term there has to be a more constructive way than this.

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The buzz surrounding Chuka Ummuna, Labour’s 30-year-old prospective candidate for Streatham, is remarkable given that he’s not even a professional politician yet. His name must be one of the hottest Google searches of the moment judging by the number of hits I get relating to a tiny article I wrote on him months ago.

 

Chuka took a break from his legal work last Friday to come and tell our politics class at City how he handles the pressure of people’s expectations, what drives him and how it feels to be compared to the US president. The first thing that struck me was how well a good dose of litigation prepares people for politics. At a glance he reminded me not of Barack Obama, but a grittier talking Tony Blair.

 

He kicked off explaining how important he thinks it is to be able to go ‘off message’ and break with the party line. “For any Labour politician doing that after 10 years in government, it is quite a challenging thing,” he admitted, referring to the element of dutifulness that will inevitably encroach on his public profile if he wins Streatham. But he quickly went on to demonstrate his ability to deliver cutting comments by taking a sideswipe at ‘identikit’ politicians:

 

I think the problem we’ve got is there are politicians who aren’t idealistic at all, even when they’re young… A lot of people muck around doing student politics, then go and work researching for an MP, then go to work in a think tank, then think they’re ready to step up to Parliament.

 

So for them, it’s a career.

 

He wouldn’t be drawn when David Miliband’s name was mentioned, insisting: “I am talking across the board”.

 

I think it’s quite easy to get warped by the environment in which you are working. In the Blair era, if you even dared to think about certain things you’d be treated like you had committed a gaffe…

 

People now tend to talk as if they’re managing the big ship UK PLC. Maybe it is partly that we have, in a way, allowed ourselves to become part of the Establishment.

 

When the unavoidable question came up, Chuka said it was “extremely flattering” to be compared to Barack Obama but emphasised, “I wouldn’t dream of comparing myself to him”. He also said race isn’t something that makes him self conscious.

 

Being mixed race, I can operate in any environment, but I don’t walk into a room and think, ‘I am the only black person here’. It’s not something I generally think about. When you open your mouth people tend to be interested in your ideas rather than what you look like.

 

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At the moment he’s juggling a full-time job and gearing up to fight for the Streatham seat at the next election. “I’m trying to meet as many people as possible,” he said, “so I can communicate what I want to do in the community.” In a sense he echoed David Cameron’s call for a return to localism when he described the Streatham community as the starting point and focus of his urge for politics. He added:

 

Do I feel the pressure? It would be spectacularly awful if I didn’t get elected. If I couldn’t live and work for Streatham, I don’t think I would want to go anywhere else.

 

Throughout the chat Chuka’s delivery was impressive and he struck a relaxed pose lolling on one of the university’s cheap plastic chairs. It was hard not to feel fired up when he described the UK political landscape as “going through a real moment” and when he said it was “an exciting time” for young people with the drive to effect change.

 

It was only when I went back through my notes that I realised how careful he’d been in everything he said. He managed to provoke some strong reactions – and agreement – while avoiding pinning himself down to much detail. I think that was what brought back the memory of a young Blair before the travails of war and office soured his idealism.

In a shameless attempt to boost my search engine rankings, here’s an insight into some of the weird online meanderings that have led people to my blog over the past few months.

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‘Gordon Brown’s eye’ has to be the most bizarre search, which led people to my very first blog post on Gordo’s glass eye and increasing blindness in his functioning eye. It was inspired by a Telegraph story claiming the PM needs things printed in 36 point font.

‘Daily Mail bigots’ was the next quirkiest one – I’m saying nothing – closely related to searches for golliwog-related material.

Another popular search was ‘Hackney gangs’, which took readers to an article I did ages ago.

Overwhelmingly though, Labour rising star Chuka Ummuna was the most searched for guy. It says a lot about his appeal that, despite not even being a politician at the moment – he’s a lawyer, about to stand for Streatham at the next election – people are already going crazy for him online. It’s another element to his early story that’s bound to prompt more irritating comparisons to Barack Obama. He’s coming in to chat to our politics class at City next week, so watch out for a longer Chuka-related focus piece then.

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 As the euphoria around Barack Obama’s barnstorming election victory subsides, a good degree of introspection has set in on this side of the Atlantic.

The crispness of Obama’s victory speech and the graciousness of McCain’s concession contrast rather too starkly with the mucky infighting that’s surrounded UK politics in the past few months.

People instinctively want an injection of the excitement and promise Obama has given to US politics. The New Statesman is already putting its money on Chuka Ummuna, a 30-year-old lawyer and the Labour Party’s prospective candidate for Streatham in south London, who is being tipped for big things by his colleagend_gr_chukaumunna1ues:

Chuka Ummuna is a bold young politician with an easy public presence. If he wins the Streatham seat he will be fast-tracked into what is likely to be the shadow cabinet… He is no Obama yet. But he is prepared to depart from the current government line in a way that would simply not have been acceptable for a candidate in the buttoned-up Tony Blair era.

In today’s Comment Is Free, Gordon Brown – or one of Number 10’s press officers – suggests that Obama’s victory is more than just the triumph over adversity of a remarkable candidate, but rather the symbol of a wider movement towards progressive politics. It’s obviously a thinly veiled advertorial for the Labour Party. You can’t help thinking that neither of the UK’s frontrunners have ever offered anything close to the buzz of the Democrats at the moment.

In case you were tucked up in bed on Tuesday night, this video uploaded on YouTube captures the elation in Chicago’s Grant Park:

Ealier in the week Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, kicked up a stink when he said a British Barack Obama would have been held back by institutional racism within the Labour Party. He went so far as to commend the Tories for a more forward-thinking approach.

On Sky News today William Hague thoroughly rebutted the idea the House of Commons wasn’t ready for a black leader:

That was too strong. I think the same thing could happen in Britain as happened in the US… I think we will see, after the next election, a House of Commons that looks quite different.

It’s not really clear what he meant by the last sentece in the context of race, though. I don’t think anyone’s ever mistaken Cameron’s shadow cabinet for an ethnically diverse, mixed bunch of people from a range of different walks in life. On the other side of the Commons benches, black Labour MP David Lammy declared that “a glass ceiling has been broken”.

Baroness Amos and Dizzee Rascal shared their views on the question of a black PM in a much-talked about Newsnight interview:

On a tangential tip, The Independent’s John Rentoul used an online tool called Who Voted? to see whether the infamous Joe The Plumber cast his ballot. Only four states are signed up to the site at the moment – Florida, Idaho, Ohio and Washington. Luckily Mr Worzelbacher lives in Lucas County, Ohio. It seems he voted in 2004, but this year’s results are yet to filter through.

A quick selection of the rest to satisfy the insatiable Mr Haddon: In The Observer, Andrew Rawnsley warns that every politician and his dog are going to start using ‘change’ as a buzzword to hop on the Obama bandwagon. He also points out what a lot of rightwing American commentators have been saying for a while – that the president elect may veer towards protectionism as the US economy turns down, which may make for some abrasive transatlantic trading.

Matthew D’Ancona boldly reckons that “about 2am on Wednesday, the defining figure of British politics ceased to be Tony Blair and became Barack Obama”. In yesterday’s Guardian Marina Hyde put it more caustically, looking back over Blair’s career as an orator. She says watching him speak at the Labour Party conference followed by Bill Clinton was “a bit like Robbie Williams opening for Frank Sinatra”. It’s funny how quickly political legacies can crumble to dust in the brightness of daylight.

If you’re already bored of the praise being heaped on Obama, just turn to today’s Daily Mail. Peter Hitchens tips a kingsize bucket of bile over the Democrat man and his many fans:

The swooning frenzy over the choice of Barack Obama as president of the US must be one of the most absurd waves of self-deception and swirling fantasy ever to sweep through an advanced civilisation… If you can believe this undistinguished and conventionally Left-wing machine politician is a sort of secular saviour, then you can believe anything.

Brilliant. James Robinson wrote a bright profile of the lord of the news agenda, Paul Dacre, in The Observer this morning. Apparently middle England’s champion flirted with socialist politics in his student days at Leeds, and even once said that anyone who doesn’t experiment with liberal views at university “should be shot”.

Finally, if you haven’t seen Dubya yet, it’s well worth a watch.