Chuka Umunna just proved I was so wrong about him – Jim Duffy

Chuka Umunna seemed like 'one of Blair's boys' when Jim Duffy met him (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)
Chuka Umunna seemed like 'one of Blair's boys' when Jim Duffy met him (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)
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Chuka Umunna’s resignation from the Labour party shows his qualities include political bravery, writes Jim Duffy.

They say that looking into the whites of peoples eyes can tell you a lot about them as human beings. Eyes being the window to the soul and all that. I like to feel the cut of an individual’s gib before I truly get to know and trust them. None more so that with politicians. But, the opportunity to meet them just does not happen very often. Especially, the more high-profile types where their attendance is all a bit stage managed.

However, as I write this piece today you can be assured that I am talking straight from empirical past experience. Over a five-year period, I was exposed – if that is the correct term to describe it – to a number of high-profile politicians and their entourage.

During these, on many an occasion, intimate affairs, I got to see close up the man or the woman who I had seen on TV the day before or would see tomorrow on TV. Therefore seeing Chuka Umunna and Jeremy Corbyn this week on TV brought back some interesting and emotive memories, as I met them both and spent quite a bit of time with them.

“Coffee with Corbyn” can come at a later date as it is Mr Umunna who occupies my thoughts for now. I sat on a panel with Chuka. It was a big event at the Glasgow Exhibition Centre. As usual, I arrived early. I like to do this to get a feel for the event, those exhibiting and those who have turned up to hear the speakers. I had a five-minute slot on stage and would then be part of the discussion panel. It was the headline event.

But, just to be clear, it was not a party political event. Chuka Umunna arrived and was brought through to the “green room” where the speakers were kept away from the crowds. It was just me and him for a brief period. He is not what I would call a big man, but he’s fairly athletic and looked like he kept himself pretty fit. He was wearing a sharp, tailored suit, crisp white shirt and he was clean shaven. In fact, it is fair to say he was immaculate. I said hello and shook his hand as he sat down beside me.

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Rushing through my mind and forcing its way into my thoughts, despite my best attempts to block it out, was my deep held perception that he was one of Tony Blair’s boys. In short, a Blairite.

And in my book, that did not wash well as ‘Mr Bliar’ – as he is referred to in the George Galloway documentary, the Killing$ of Tony Blair – was most certainly not on my Christmas card list.

But, I did try hard not to let this colour my thinking. We blethered about his journey up from England, then the panel presenter, a well-known TV pundit, popped her head in and started gushing. Chuka this and Chuka that. It was like Alan Partridge drooling over a ‘gorgeous blonde’ guest on his clever 90s satirical talk show, Knowing me, Knowing you.

Anyway, by this time, I was most certainly playing second fiddle to Chuka, who with great charm and acceptance, gushed back at the TV pundit. And at this moment, I went off him. Despite being the friendly face who had chatted with him, I was now “in the background” as he ramped up his persona for his keynote and the panel discussion.

Suffice to say, it all went swimmingly well, the audience seemed happy enough and Chuka and me never saw each other again.

But, from that experience and then Chuka’s inept and cringeworthy go at throwing himself in the ring for the Labour Party leadership, I considered him spineless and just a slick-talking young politician who was just like his role model, Teflon Tony.

My view of him was as one of those Westminster politicians who lived in the bubble and would stay there safe and secure for years, building up newspaper columns, books and slots on the speaking circuit.

Until this week... Bloody Well Done Chuka Umunna!

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Granted it has taken you some time to fall out of love with yourself and the Labour Party. But, never say never and it’s never too late to change.

Watching Chuka walk out with his fellow Labour MPs, affirming their credentials and being brave, made me stop and think for a while.

If I’m being honest, as I watched the live TV broadcast, I felt a bit emotional and wanted to throw my fist in the air with cry of “yes, yes”. Not in any way, shape or form because 7 MPs had decided Labour was no longer for them or that Westminster politics was “broken”.

No, I wanted to fist-pump as I had seen the young and bordering on arrogant politician I sat with, now grown up and being true to himself.

I think amazing things could happen now. Chuka Amunna is clever, educated, considerate, experienced and a first-class communicator. But, what is more powerful and significant is that he can now unleash all of this, in his own way, unbridled by the party whip.

Years of frustration and figuring out who he is will now lead to a clear vision of what he truly wants his country and British politics to be like. But, don’t expect it overnight. It will take time and he needs to be supported, challenged and mentored. Notwithstanding, he is now ready and I bet fully prepared and focused on the task that lies ahead of him and his new colleagues.

Your father Ben Umunna is not alive Chuka, but if he was here today, I’m sure he’d say one thing. I’m so proud of you son.