Chuka Umunna: The price of a political career shouldn’t be the privacy of your family

We should scrutinise politician's policies, not their personal lives

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The Independent Online

Well, even by Westminster standards that dream died fast. A mere 72 hours after announcing his bid for the Labour leadership, Chuka Umunna  - the bookies favourite - has un-announced it, claiming he was unhappy with the “scrutiny and attention” that are part and parcel of the political whirligig.

“I have not found it to be a comfortable experience” he said. “Most importantly, I continued to have very real concerns and worry about this bid’s impact on those close to me.”

After momentary shock that the front-runner had fallen so quickly, rumours began circulating that a Sunday paper was planning to publish a damaging story, and that Umunna was withdrawing to save a dark secret being exposed to the nation. But if this really was the case - that there was something so scandalous lurking in his past that he had to leave the race entirely mere days after entering - then why was he running in the first place? And if the story was a relatively minor one, not serious enough to hurt him professionally, then was he really not strong enough to weather the fallout? After witnessing the interminable election campaign, during which Miliband was excoriated on front page after front page for eating a sandwich, he can't have expected an easy ride all the way to September.

But now it seems that there is, in fact, no internet-breaking revelation on its way. No Sunday newspaper has claimed to have a story in the pipeline, and those closest to Umunna maintain his statement that “nothing compares to actually doing it and the impact on the rest of one's life,” can be taken at face value. Instead it seems that Labour have lost someone who had all the makings of a fine leader at a time they desperately need one simply because he didn’t like the level of intense private scrutiny that comes with the top job. There was no disastrous scoop, just the promise of one waiting, perhaps, at some point, stumbled upon after weeks and months of dogged pursuit. And at what cost?

Two conclusions – by no means mutually exclusive – can be drawn. First, if this is the case, then Umunna simply may not have been up to the role and all it entails. That he was right when he said “I had always wondered whether it was all too soon for me to launch this leadership bid – I fear it was”.

But second, we are obsessing over the wrong things. It is deeply concerning that a seemingly decent man, with the potential to be a great leader, has been forced out of a bid for leadership in order to protect his family – including his girlfriend’s 102 year-old grandmother – from journalists. It is right that we know something about the personal lives of those who ask for our vote, but the price of a political career shouldn’t be the privacy of those that you love. We end up with the politicians that we deserve, and when we demand to know every detail of someone’s back story, before we have ever heard their policies, is it any wonder no one ‘normal’ ever wants to represent us?

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