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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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Harriet Harman’s clash with William Hague at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday divided the blogosphere. The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow and Nick Watt broke from the pack and said she “hung Hague out to dry”. Jane Merrick, political editor of the Indie on Sunday, also though Harman had the edge.

More predictable were the damning responses from Simon Hoggart, Quentin Letts and Iain Dale, all of whom thought Brown’s deputy put on a disastrous performance.

If Harman seriously wants to edge out the likes of David Miliband and Alan Johnson when Brown falls – as this week’s press coverage would have us think – two things are certain. She’ll need to be able to deal with vicious briefings, however misogynistic. And she’ll need to hold up against tougher grillings than she got yesterday, on a daily basis.

Judging by her performance in the dispatch box, I’m not convinced she’s ready for either.

Let’s not understate the testing she got. Hague is a nifty parliamentarian, and his taunts over her rumoured leadership challenge in the clip above – “Why don’t you step in? When Chamberlain lost his party’s confidence, Churchill stepped forward” – were superbly delivered.

Harman also managed a few decent jabs of her own, most notably when Hague suggested senior government figures should show contrition for their role in the credit crunch:

As far as [Hague] is concerned can I remind him – if he wants to learn lessons – what he said when he was leader of the opposition? He said: “As prime minister I will make deregulation one of my top priorities. I will drive deregulation from the centre and I will promote ministers not on the basis of whether they regulate enough but on the basis of how much they deregulate.” So, yes, we have lessons to learn, but we’ll learn no lessons from him.

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But she seemed too easily rattled by the juvenile shouts echoing across the benches, and when Hague asked a well-researched question about the government’s failure to implement its loan guarantee scheme for businesses, Harman reeled off a textbook inanity that showed she didn’t know her brief.

The Tory benches roared with boyish glee.

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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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 Someone once remarked that if John Smith was Labour’s old oak when he died in 1994, Tony Blair was its cucumber.

A lower middle class Scotsman by birth he was an Islingtonian by ambition, and a Tory in all but name.

His political apprenticeship was brief, his rise to power swift, and his roots in the Labour movement at best shallow.

Blair turned his amorphous appeal into an election-winning machine.

It’s become fashionable for commentators to talk about the resurgent tribalism of Labour politics lately. Alastair Campbell is a war-painted believer who will stick with the party through hell and high water, G2 tells us today. The Times’ Rachel Sylvester compares Labour to a dysfunctional family muddling its way through an awkward reunion.

Maybe tribalism is an epithet better suited to Labour than Conservatism, with the party’s heritage sunk in memories of miners’ marches and the grit of industrial Manchester. But the question of roots is just as telling.

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On Sunday Dave invited Andrew Marr, and millions of prying eyes across the nation, into his living room. Inevitably within a few days the Guardian had zoomed in on his bookshelf and produced a reading list for aspiring Tory leaders. Among a spattering of modern political tomes and novels – Campbell’s diaries made the cut, as did David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 was the only pre-1990 book on Cameron’s shelves.

A mind uncluttered by the fripperies of culture clearly has its advantages – look at Tony Blair’s ascent to office – but a few roots and a bit of historical context aren’t to be sniffed at either – look at Tony Blair’s subdued exit 10 years on.

Dave was special adviser to Norman Lamont during Black Wednesday, an experience he doesn’t like to bring up too often. His rise through the Tory ranks since then has been smooth and accomplished. It’s unfortunate for him he’s not fighting the 1997 election, when that and the gift of the gab was all anyone really needed to win.

I saw him shoot a televised Q&A at the offices of the Manchester Evening News last week. His performance was decent, but it struck me he’s been in opposition for almost four years now – longer than Blair had to wait. The problem is that even good PR is time limited. There’s only so long a campaign can run without any really substance behind it. ‘Change’ is a great abstract noun, but the days when the public would indiscriminately plump for that are gone, as John McCain’s vapid incantations in the US proved.

Cameron could do with bringing some roots into the shadow cabinet. The question on everyone’s lips has clearly been whether he will bring in Kenneth Clarke and shift out George Osborne, although Cameron insists Osborne is essential to the next election campaign and a lot of Tory pundits worry Clarke would reopen the European question that’s scarred the party so deeply in the past.

Cameron faces some tough decisions in the next few months. In the meantime, he could do with a trip to Waterstones.