Posted by Nelson Dafe | 24 May 2015 | 6,159 times
The general elections in Britain have come and gone with the Conservative Party led by current Prime Minister David Cameron recording a convincing victory in the polls. The main opposition party, the Labour Party is in considerable disarray after suffering defeats especially in its hitherto strongholds in Scotland.
The talk in a lot of Labour party top circles was on the possibility of a black member of Parliament, Nigeria’s Chuka Umunna becoming the new leader of the party and standing in the next general elections for the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His possible candidacy even received some positive backing from former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. But,after some serious media scrutiny, Chuka Umunna has pulled out from the race for the leadership of the Labour party, thus declining the opportunity of being Britain’s first black Prime Minister.
In a recent essay, A Nigerian Professor based in the UK, Adebowale Oriku, gave an analysis of the situation surrounding why Umunna would not become Labour Party Leader or British Prime Minister. Below is the essay entitled ‘Why Chuka Umunna will neither become Labour Party Leader nor British Prime Minister’, made available to this reporter by the world-renowned writer:
If time had permitted I would have dashed off – typed, really - a short piece entitled 'Why Umunna will neither become Labour Party Leader nor British Prime Minister.' This would not only have been prescient it would also have come across to some as cynical, if not 'un-Nigerian.' 'Un-Nigerian' because last year a major Nigerian newspaper had misreported that Umunna might
become British Prime Minister this year. I made a brief comment under the link: well-meaning or
not, this was a lazy, if not idiotic, piece of misinformation. Chuka Umunna was a member of
the opposition party and however high-ranked he was he could not become British Prime Minister this year for the simple reason that he was not the leader of his party. As it turned out, even the leader of the party, Ed Miliband, did not become Prime Minister, he had to resign after the last election, trounced and bruised.
But I know why the false prognosis that Chuka Umunna would become prime minister was made. Like three other MPs in the British Parliament he had a Nigerian parent – father. Perhaps owing to a misplaced sense of ownership, Nigeria (personified) has always had this vain and
prideful quirk of claiming someone who was born and raised in Europe or North America and has made good as its own. This is all very well, except that this sort of attitude may be carried
too far as with the mendacious newspaper report.
And certainly some of these Nigerian ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ abroad do not shy away from their
Nigerian connections. Tinie Tempah, aka Chukwuemeka Okogwu, declared during a cookery
programme that he likes jollof rice; Jimmy Akingbola likes dodo; David Oyelowo can do the
Yoruba accent to ‘gbam’; Chiweitel Ejiofor sees his participation in ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ as
And politician Chuka Umunna, Tempah’s friend, isn’t embarrassed by his Nigerian side, either. But that is where it all ends. These guys – or blokes – are British. Though it’s likely that they carry both Nigerian and British passports, I’ll leave which of the two takes precedence over the other open. But before I go back to Umunna, I'll again detour.
Idris Elba has Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian parents, so he is as African as Akingbola or
Ejiofor, but since he seems to fit the bill for the 21st century James Bond better, his name has
come up many times as a potential 007. Reactions in Britain have been muted and British,
that is ironically demure. But the American radio rant-artist and right-wing jerk, Rush Limbaugh,
went to town on Elba, he argued that the Brit could not be James Bond because he was black –
Bond must be white, eternally, essentially, white.
It is easy for ‘liberals’ like me to dismiss Limbaugh as a Tea Party loony but you may not
be surprised to learn that what Limbaugh voiced out chimed with what many others did not, both
in America and here. But then in spite of Limbaugh and his fellow travellers, Elba, or some
other black ‘dude’, can be James Bond. Just as Obama could be – and became – American
president in spite of Rush and his likes.
Of course Rush Limbaugh would foam at the mouth and rave about Chuka Umunna not looking
like the textbook British Prime Minister – as if it should matter to him what a British PM should
look like. A radio presenter here fancies himself as the British Limbaugh, tubbiness and all, but he is a watered-down, shock-lite version of the American, so his views about Umunna weren't
overly poisonous – scabrously sour, certainly.
Even the Daily Mail, an old-guard British rag and its proudly politically incorrect readers,
commentariat and army of often spiteful commenters only used the feint of their overt
support for the other main political party to lay into Umunna after he declared that he was going
to stand for Labour party leader. He was derided for being a ‘champagne socialist,’ slated for being a jumped-up urbanite, lampooned for describing himself as ‘British Obama’, accused without solid proof that he edited his Wikipedia page to reflect this, which was a subtle way of dismissing Umunna as a dreamer, a faux-Obama, a black Walter Mitty. There was considerable ethnic-baiting too: in other words Umunna had come in for Obama-Osama type slurs, particularly with his first name Chuka. Barbarisations like Chukka, Chuggy, Chucky flew around, and there was the odd Chaka-Chaka Umunna and Chuka Lumumba.
And it did not help that the young man showboated his new girlfriend a couple of days
before he put himself forward as a prospective Labour Party leader, a girlfriend who, contra-
Obama, happened to be white. There is no accounting for love or for whom one falls in love
with, but is it a coincidence that most black British men who belong, or aspire to belong, in
the top drawer often parade svelte white women as significant others. I wasn't surprised to see
Umunna stepping out with his, well, semi-svelte girlfriend (and there is no overlooking the fact
that he is half-white, anyway). When someone called in during a radio show that being mixed-
race might negatively affect Umunna’s chances not only of becoming Labour leader but also of
becoming prime minister, the presenter disagreed, Britain is now the avatar of a post-racial society, he affirmed. Is it, I asked myself? In spite of the fact that Britain is not America and that
‘minorities’ constitute between 10 and 14 percent of the British society (of which Africans and Afro-Caribbean are only 3.5 percent), I still wanted to believe the presenter’s assertion but all I could do was to leave it open-ended.
Then, suddenly, last week Chuka had dropped out of the race, or had ‘chucked in the towel’ as a
newspaper reported it. I was as surprised as many, even the Daily Mail reader who had wryly
suggested that Umunna should wait for scores of years before declaring that he wanted to be
Britain’s prime minister would be surprised. The only reason Umunna gave was that he could no
longer take the pressure of media ‘scrutiny’ – of his life and those of his loved ones. Which is all
very well, although the commonsensical question as to why Umunna should expect anything but
scrutiny has come up a number of times. But this is the least uncharitable of the responses. The
muck-raking is still ongoing in the right-wing press. What skeleton has he got in his closet?
Speaking of closet, there have been vague, and rather specious, speculations that ‘metrosexual’
Umunna may be gay, which of course would not really have mattered had he not been escorted by a woman, with the implication that he was dissimulating. There has also been the
speculation that Umunna was embarrassed by his own image, his oft-reported slickiness,
dapperness, the fact that he belongs to a London exclusive club which flaunts its decadence and
opulence. There have also been reports that both Umunna and his mother have profited from the
proceeds of tax-avoidance – which is in itself not illegal, but a rather morally wretched thing to do.
In the more shit-stirring newspapers there is a tenor of reportage which depicts Umunna as all
facade and that if the surface is scratched, the real Umunna will be teased out, scrofulous and
rotten. Ultimately, only Umunna and those close to him know why he left the race, but it might
just as well be that he could not muster up enough Labour MPs to support his bid, aspirants
need 34 members of parliament to gain candidacy. Anyway, Umunna is out and I hope I
won’t be reading it in a Nigerian newspaper in the next four years that he is set to become prime
minister in 2020 after Cameron.
And why did I come to the conclusion that he could not have become Labour Party leader, let
alone prime minister? I can’t say with any certainty. His relative young age of 36, and experiential brevity as a parliamentarian, which of course had raised a few eyebrows? But then
Conservative Prime Minister Cameron became the leader of his party at 39, and few suffered
conniptions on account of his age. Umunna’s colour – mixed-race? Just like Obama, he is
taxonomically, sociologically ‘black.’ Is Britain ready for a black prime minister? Well, enough
Britishness has seeped into me to make me baulk at giving a negative answer to that question. But for now, the Great Black Hope has retreated behind the barricades.
•Photo shows Chuka Umunna.
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