by Kevin Meagher
Is there anything about British politics that Chuka Umunna likes?
Hardly a month goes by without a pronouncement from him about how some institution or part of our political fabric is not hopelessly outdated and in need of massive reform – or scrapping entirely.
He was at it again yesterday, arguing that our first-past-the-post electoral system leaves voters “remote and unrepresented” and should be replaced with the Additional Member system used in the Scottish Parliament.
It follows his call in the summer for a federal UK, predicting, with a hyperbolic flourish that we are witnessing “the end of British electoral politics as we know it.”
Modernisation is Chuka’s favourite riff. In case we hadn’t noticed.
Prime Minister’s Questions is a “circus” while the Palace of Westminster is Ground Zero for everything that’s wrong with our political culture: “It’s a beautiful building and it often feels like you are in a museum. So why don’t we turn it into a museum?” he suggested back in July.
Pimp my parliament, so to speak.
But it’s not just the décor that so offends: “How can we continue with a chamber that nurtures the ridiculous tribalism that switches so many people off?” His solution? Introduce a passion-sapping horseshoe design instead.
Political partisanship is a regular target of Chuka’s exasperation. “I am not the most tribal politician” he once told GQ magazine (the kind of publication he seems to like appearing in). “Party affiliation among the public is not what it was, so just putting on an old party label or old-style tribalism will not win you elections.” (Apart from the small fact that it so clearly does. Ask Mr. Cameron – he’s just won one!)
Political debate, meanwhile, is usually “ridiculously adversarial” and parties “urgently need to move with the times.” Yet tribalism is what binds politicians to their parties. It’s just another term for loyalty and shared assumptions. While seeking to stand apart from the party he (briefly) wanted to lead in the summer, is a strange signal to keep sending out.
It explains, though, his proposal back in 2012 to fast-track business executives into parliament. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging more people from business to play a part in politics, but to elevate their interests over those who have earned their spurs with years of campaigning for the party shows how little feel he has for the grassroots or Labour’s traditions.
And reveals how unlike Tony Blair he is, despite the superficial comparisons. For all his modernising zeal, Blair took care to regularly touch base with the party he led. (His emotional final conference speech as leader being a case in point).
Chuka is certainly fluent and thrusting, but he is also impatient and rootless. If he ever hopes to stand for leader again, he needs to show he understands ordinary people, (beyond the rarefied circles where his tetchy hyper-modernism is lauded). Perhaps he would now be better off finding a few things about politics and the Labour tribe that he does like?
But if his quest to modernise all he surveys must continue, perhaps he could start a bit closer to home.
The ‘latest news’ section of his website hasn’t been updated since March.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut