Britain's undemocratic colonial history means it shouldn't 'lecture' other countries about democracy, says Chuka Umunna

Labour's shadow business secretary says the UK has often disregarded democracy in the past

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Britain should be wary of “lecturing” other countries about democracy because of its undemocratic colonial history, Chuka Umunna has said.

Labour’s shadow business secretary argued that Britain had done some “thoroughly undemocratic” things in the past and that it had itself disregarded democracy when it exploited the resources of other countries.

“Women got the vote from 1918 onwards, we didn’t have proper universal suffrage until the latter part of the last century and that’s before you look at some thoroughly undemocratic things we did when you are looking at the concept of colonialism,” he told The House magazine.

“We just went into places and had complete disregard for any kind of notions of democracy, we thought we would take resources and the wealth of other countries.”

Mr Umunna described himself as “a democrat” but urged caution when criticising other countries.


“I will always argue for democracy. But I think we have to be quite careful when we seem to go around lecturing the rest of the world about these things,” he explained.

He recounted a recent trip to China where he had told his hosts he felt “nervous” berating their government “given my country’s history”.

“We can’t pose as saints,” he added.

Mr Umunna last year called for the “unsustainable” unelected House of Lords to be replaced with an elected regional senate.

“The House of Lords is unsustainable in its current form, and it’s a complete anachronism” he said at the time.

“We can see our politics as broken and we’ve got to be fairly radical about how we reform and change it.”

The shadow business secretary last month intervened to defend his party leader Ed Miliband from attacks by Tory-supporting executives, describing some of their criticisms as “smears”.

Widely tipped as a future leadership candidate, Mr Umunna was previously associated with Labour's left-wing Compass faction, but has more recently moved towards the party's enthusiastically pro-business centre.