A politician shouldn’t care more about himself than his party

Chuka said he didn’t feel “ready”, but even that is barely an explanation for why, after overtly manoeuvring for the leadership for years, the short-priced favourite pulled out

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Whatever possessed Alf Ramsey to substitute Bobby Charlton when England were leading West Germany 2-0 in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final? If travel broadens the mind, what kept Judith Chalmers from the All Souls’ high table? Does the idiot who presses the already illuminated button seriously believe his magical touch will make the lift come sooner? Added to such great unanswerables today is the question: what made Chuka withdraw?

Conspiracy theories abound, but since the best that even The Mail on Sunday can manage is Umunna’s terror of being exposed as a member of an astonishingly (I’m sorry for the crudity, but I’ve had a ramble through the thesaurus and it’s the only word that fits) wanky City drinking club, we can probably rule out any concerns about a drugs and/or sex scandal. His friends cited press harassment of his mother and his girlfriend’s old granny. But there appears to have been very little, and what self-respecting narcissist would be deterred from a historic mission by that anyway? Chuka himself said that he didn’t feel “ready”, but even that is barely a partial explanation for why, after overtly manoeuvring for the leadership for years, the short-priced favourite pulled out. So allow me to advance a broader theory.

Time after time in recent years, we have seen front-runners recoil from the leadership like mustangs startled by a rattlesnake. In both 2008 and 2009, David Miliband had Gordon Brown at his mercy, and revealed a streak as yellow as the skin of his favourite fruit (technically a herb to avoid pedantic letters). Also in 2009, and again last autumn after Ed Miliband’s conference amnesia about the deficit, Alan Johnson had the chance to step up and save Labour from a monstrous drubbing, but preferred to stay on the bench. Now Chuka (and, to a lesser extent, Dan Jarvis). No one could pretend that leading a desperately wounded party doesn’t demand a level of self-sacrifice far beyond most of us. But most of us don’t claim to love a political party to distraction and devote our beings to the public good. If Miliband Snr, Johnners and now Umunna cannot see what message their coyness sends to the electorate, they blind themselves to the obvious. Ten years after Peter Mandelson’s cri de coeur, Labour is the established home of the quitter, not the fighter. This may or may not be the time for a novice, but has there ever been a worse time in its history for the professional dilettante?


Good wife, bad leader

One Labour leadership candidate who should quit is Yvette Cooper. I say this with admiration, and as a fan of traditional family values. Plainly, it is impossible to win the polonium-encrusted chalice without stating, sincerely or not, that Labour overborrowed in the mid-2000s. Since Ed Balls was largely responsible for those spending plans, Yvette faces a dilemma familiar to fans of The Good Wife, the US telly drama in which Julianna Margulies’s lawyer must decide whether to distance herself from her politico husband when running for office herself. But Yvette, bless her faithful heart, will not betray her old man, hence her terminally inadequate response when asked the question, which I paraphrase for convenience. “Maybe we spent too much on duff NHS software, Rich Tea biscuits, and other stuff like that. Oh, yes, and we really should have bought the quilted loo paper in bulk from Asda, ’cos that would have saved 1.17p per roll. But not really, no.”

Don’t run, Jim. Don’t run!

Nothing became Jim Murphy’s sparkling stint at the helm of Scottish Labour like his departure. We may never understand why an unreconstructed Blairite failed to stem the SNP tide, but it paid Jim credit that he underlined those credentials by snarling at the trade unions in a typically gracious resignation statement. The silver lining is that he can now finish his politics degree, on which he spent a miserly nine years without graduating, and have more time for long-distance running. If he made one misjudgement with that hobby in the past, it was turning round. He should have followed the example of his role model on political strategy, Forrest Gump, who kept running in the same direction until he ran out of land mass. We will miss Jim, who, in contrast to Labour colleagues mentioned elsewhere, was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the party. The Scottish Nationalist Party, as it happens, but let’s not quibble about that.

Slow clap for Simon Burns

In a bold bid to assuage the suspicion that the Tories regard them as uncouth savages, Simon Burns extends an avuncular hand to the SNP. Best known until now for praising John Bercow as “a sanctimonious dwarf”, the courteous member for Chelmsford welcomed SNP newbies by telling them off for applauding (a rebuke they inevitably greeted with rapturous applause). “People have clapped in the chamber,” Simon later told the Telegraph, “which, for MPs like me, is totally unacceptable. You don’t clap in the chamber. You say ‘hear, hear’.” I must say, Simon seems remarkably unpompous. Then again, so does the 20-year-old SNP member for Paisley. If Mhairi Black is looking for someone on whom to put the nut (and Simon has nothing to say about the etiquette of the parliamentary headbutt), I think she may just have found him.

Sponger turns life around...

Hats off to Prince Harry for underscoring his call for the reintroduction of National Service with a powerful emotional argument. “I dread to think where I’d be without the Army,” says Harry, and he makes a compelling point. If he hadn’t been saved by military discipline, he’d now be living in a palace, playing polo and jetting around the planet cuddling babies for photo opportunities. Bring back National Service and change the lives of royal princes.

Twitter: @MatthewJNorman