Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Chuka Umunna's walk-out was not quite in John Nott territory, but wasn't bad


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Indy Politics

As “walking out” of a television interview goes, Chuka Umunna’s departure from a Sky News studio today was, sadly, not in the big league. This wasn’t Defence Secretary John Nott’s magnificently enraged 1982 wrenching of the microphone from his tie and disappearing off-camera, while chuntering “I’m fed up with this interview...” after Robin Day had suggested he was a “here today and, if I may say so, gone tomorrow, politician”.

For one thing, Umunna didn’t, strictly speaking, walk – let alone “storm” – out of the interview. Indeed, it would have been difficult to do so, since it was ended not by the man answering the questions, but by the man asking them, Sky’s Dermot Murnaghan. As in: “So you’re not going to speak until you get the party line right. OK, well we’ll have to end it there. Shadow Business Secretary, thank you very much.”

What Umunna then did was to give an exasperated wave of the hand across his face and get up from his seat – crime of crimes – while the cameras were still rolling. The point isn’t really whether there was or wasn’t anything in Murnaghan’s sudden “party line” charge. Umunna didn’t have the chance to answer it, other than, er... visually. Luckily for him, he didn’t make a ruder gesture.

Umunna had said he wasn’t going to condemn Eric Pickles’ letter to Muslim leaders as “patronising” when he hadn’t read it. To which Murnaghan retorted: “Well, what are you doing in politics?... It’s the middle of the afternoon and you still haven’t read this?” (It was actually lunchtime, but that’s a detail.)

Probably Umunna should have read it, though he pointed out he had been asked on to talk about David Cameron’s economic speech, “but since you’ve asked me the question, let me answer it”. He agreed, somewhat platitudinously, that many Muslims were trying to “illustrate that Muslim values are actually British values too”.

Murnaghan interrupted him, in his best infuriated-teacher-faced-with-inadequate-homework manner: “Do you want to come on in half an hour’s time? It doesn’t take long to read the letter and then we can have this discussion.” Umunna: “Dermot, I think you’re being a bit ridiculous right now... I’m not just going to speak off-piste without having actually read a letter. I don’t think you’re being terribly fair. Your viewers can make their own decision.”

So, politician gives “Oh, for God’s sake” wave and fails to sit still until camera is off him. This may not exactly be the end of Umunna’s career.