Matthew Norman on Monday: ‘British Obama’ Chuka carries Blairite torch

Plus: Brown-blasting Jack set up a Straw man,  David Cameron gets catty with his former idol and who ever heard of Lynton Crosby?

Matthew Norman
Sunday 21 July 2013 17:11 BST
Chuka Umunna MP speaks to delegates at the Labour Party Conference at Manchester Central on October 1, 2012 in Manchester, England.
Chuka Umunna MP speaks to delegates at the Labour Party Conference at Manchester Central on October 1, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Getty Images)

Even Ed Miliband’s detractors concede that he has nimbly steered the SS One Nation Labour around the iceberg of civil war, but is he losing control of his rudder? While fans of factional strife thrilled to Jack Straw’s attack on Gordon Brown, it’s the acclamation of Chuka Umunna as bearer of the Blairite standard that concerns us first. Fears that the shadow business secretary is fatally riven by self-effacement – you may recall his distress when someone at his then law firm hacked his Wikipedia entry to call him as “potentially the British Obama” – happily recede. Judging by a Financial Times profile, indeed, he is ready for prime time. Chuka has been seeing a fair bit of Mr Tony Blair, we learn, who thinks him “very smart”, while Peter Mandelson believes “he’s on a trajectory which could take him far”. Meanwhile, Chuka, who (presumably at Mr T’s behest) has had an audience with Bill Clinton, tells George Parker of his wish to help people “make their first million” – a thought less in keeping with Little Ed’s tone on personal wealth than with Mandy’s intense relaxedness about filthy riches. In a text message exchange with this column, Mandy denies that he is running Chuka, and we take him at his word. But with the polls so worrisome for Labour, and the waters of electoral nerviness rising towards the plimsoll line of panic, it behoves us to ask whether Chuka’s new friends are trying to persuade him that he is the Fletcher Christian to the younger Milibandroid’s Captain Bligh.

Brown-blasting Jack set up a Straw man

Back to Jack Straw, who lashes out at Gordon Brown over his visit to troops in Basra in the autumn of 2007, identifying this as a brazen bid to deflect attention from the Tory conference at which George Osborne made his inheritance tax bribe. It is not an original point. Yet however delayed, this accusation that Gordon abused his office carries crushing force from one whose role in facilitating the handing of Libyan dissidents to Colonel Gadaffi remains unclear. No one has Jack’s integrity. How a man of such steadfast principle masked his disgust at the grubby tactics of his colleagues for so long, I will never understand.

Cameron gets catty with his former idol

It must be the heat, but this infernal fad for skirmishing afflicts David Cameron and his one-time idol Mr Tony Blair. “I cannot be expected to know the client list of everybody I speak with,” the PM snippily responded to questions about Lynton Crosby’s tobacco links, as if he may once have met election supremo for two minutes at a drinks party. “Do I have to know who all Tony Blair’s other clients are? If I did, I don’t think I have enough paper in my office to write them all down.” Miiiiiiaaaoooww. Mr T’s responded that talking to the PM about the Middle East, on which he continues to sprinkle the magic dust of peace, can’t be compared to lobbying for fag firms. The bitch-slapping must cease. It would be a wicked blow to national morale if the love match that sustained us through the economic gloom were disbanded now with the green shoots of recovery apparently visible.

Who ever heard of Lynton Crosby?

Speaking of Crosby, we seem to have exaggerated his influence. “Ed Miliband’s attack on David Cameron over the scrapping of plain cigarette packs is a pathetic attempt to spread the sleaze in the wake of the Unite scandal,” rails a Sun leader. “He wants an enquiry because a Tory election aide no one has ever heard of has links to a tobacco giant.” Technically this is incorrect. Take the Sun’s own Trevor Kavanagh, the shorthand secretary who transcribes Rupert Murdoch’s innermost thoughts. Trev has heard of him and regards him as more than just an aide. When Crosby joined the PM’s office, Trev described him as an “election mastermind”.

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