Chuka Umanna

Chuka Umunna

“This government is incompetent”

“I just want to change things,” says Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary and Labour MP for Streatham. If a week is a long time in politics, then the charming former lawyer – still only 34 years of age – has plenty of time to do just that.

Do you think things could have gone any better for Labour in 2012 in terms of how the coalition government has performed?

There is a maxim in British politics that oppositions don’t win elections but governments lose them. I don’t believe that. I think we have successfully made the arguments and are winning them, while the government has shown a degree of incompetence that bewilders even their own supporters.

Do you think people are still largely cynical about politicians?

There is a paradox, which is that when people are asked about their local MP, the politician scores favourably. When asked generally what they think about politicians, the public is far less generous. In my constituency’s most deprived ward, though, we had a turnout in 2010 of more than 70 per cent, so I don’t think people are apathetic about politics, rather they are disillusioned with party politics. Politicians are sometimes too quick to disagree with one another. People are bored of the Punch & Judy debates, so they switch off.

Do you regret admitting that you had smoked weed?

I was asked a straight question [last July] and I gave a straight answer. A high percentage of my generation have smoked cannabis and I wasn’t saying I was proud of it or that I was encouraging it, but equally I wasn’t going to lie about it.

You have distanced yourself from ‘British Obama’ comparisons, but how happy were you that he won another term?

I was delighted. I try not to say much about Obama as people have written blogs and criticised me for promoting the comparison, which is so wrong, but on this occasion I couldn’t resist tweeting [my congratulations]. It would have been a terrible thing for the world if he hadn’t won.

What was your take on the ‘Boris mania’ that followed the Olympics?

Mayoral politics is personality politics and so people draw conclusions about Boris that work in a London context but wouldn’t at a national level. But do people want Boris to be in charge of all public services, attending G20 and Nato summits on our behalf and to be taken seriously by the international community? Probably not.

What about the celebrity side of politics? You seem in touch with it, but would you be seen eating a kangaroo’s backside in the jungle?

No chance. You are elected to give your views in parliament. The people who give you that privilege expect you to do so in parliament, they don’t expect you to swan off to Australia and eat insects.

You also like to tweet music recommendations…

I love my house music. Politicians can be painted as strange individuals, but it’s nice to show you are pretty normal.

And how else do you wind down?

I like football and used to work at the away ticket office at Crystal Palace. I love Homeland. I’m friends with David Harewood [who plays David Estes] and I knew I needed to know what it was all about. I sat down and caught up with it and am now addicted.

Tags: politics

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