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Chuka's Ladder

22/05/2015 10:48 BST | Updated 21/05/2016 10:59 BST

There is a little, not-widely told tale about the current president of the United States of America. It is a story which lost a lot of oxygen, in the fearsome gush of life given to Barack Obama's political legend, once he occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington.

The year was 1999 and the fresh-faced State Senator, buoyed on by his local popularity and celebrity-like status in Chicago, decided to take on the incumbent congressman in Illinois's 1st congressional district (and himself a local legend), Bobby L.Rush. Now, Mr Rush was not labelled a legend in Chicago, as generously as we dish that title out today, the man was truly legendary in those parts. A former Black Panther, he was a four-term incumbent and nothing moved in that part of town, without his say-so. At the time, very few could believe or fathom Obama's chutzpah.

A caller into a Chicago radio station was withering:

"With that in mind, I'm very reluctant to support him for anything. I think he's biting off a little more than he can chew. He's got some good issues, but he's too green."

As it goes, the story didn't end well for the political embryo. In 2000, after running a somewhat unsure campaign, Obama lost by a margin of two to one. In an uncanny twist, both victor and vanquished reacted to the election result as if they were reading from the same hymn book:

"He was blinded by his ambition....Obama has never suffered from a lack of believing that he can accomplish whatever it is he decides to try. Obama believes in Obama. And, frankly, that has its good side but it also has its negative side."

- Bobby L. Rush

"In retrospect, there was very little chance of me winning that race. That was a good lesson -- that you should never be too impressed with your own ideas if your name recognition in a Congressional district is only eight or whatever it was...I had just gotten my rear-end handed to me in my very first race for Congress. Didn't even make it past the primary...."

- Barack Obama

Taking the loss fully on the chin, Obama soldiered on to be re-elected to the Illinois Senate two years later, before making it to the US Senate in 2004. And the rest, they say; is history. Friends, political observers and supporters are all in unison, claiming the 2000 loss was the best thing to have happened to the eager, swaggering and overconfident ego of the young politician. Morale of the tale: Obama was not born great, he had to make his mistakes (and they were many), before he became the man he is today.

Pan the camera back to the shores of the United Kingdom and the man many have weighed down with the Britain's Obama tag, is currently navigating a similarly tortuous political landscape. Burdened by a comparison that owes itself to nothing, but mixed-heritage and aesthetics (maybe add self-confidence), Chuka Umunna, has discovered in the most cruel fashion, the encumbrance of heightened political attention.

The reaction to Umunna's decision to "unrun" for the leadership of the Labour Party has been clearly over the top. The vitriol coming from certain quarters, has taken even those who have no time for the Shadow Business Secretary, by surprise.

Why decide to run in the first place, if he knew he couldn't handle the associated pressure, they asked.

Accusations of arrogance, self-absorption and cowardice filled the air, as friends and political comrades scratched their heads for an articulate response. As a friend of mine ironically put it; "Chuka is one of the few people in Westminster, who would have been able to come up with a robust defence, had this been one of his allies".

But for us lesser mortals, all we want to know is; what exactly is Mr Umunna's crime?

In the end, here is an individual whose cerebral gifts are undoubted, albeit, he suffers from the odd daft moment, as shown in the last week or so. But in the final analysis, here is someone who has put his hat in the ring, observed the stresses that accompany the stage are torturous and therefore, decided to pull out before the strain consumed himself, alongside his nearest and dearest.

Please feel free to educate my misguided self, but is this change of heart, not something most of our leaders should do as a matter of course, once they know they are on a wrong path? Would we rather they throw themselves into the middle of storms they are clearly unequipped for? Especially, when we would be better served if they could admit their defences lacked the adequate fortitude, go away and come back stronger and drier for another day?

Would the Labour Party not have fared better, had Ed Miliband pulled the trigger a year ago, in the face of public opinion (from the labourer to the Lord), that he was unfit to be Prime Minister? Would the Lib-Dems not have done better in these last elections had Nick Clegg had the humility to timely admit his mistakes re: tuition fees and apologised accordingly? Would David Cameron's legacy not be a tad shinier, had he backed down from appointing Andrew Coulson, in the face of educated advice?

Every politician, irrespective of their ideological slant, will eventually commit a faux pas, that will linger in their legacy and equip the obituary writers at the broadsheets with sufficient bandwidth, cometh the hour. In the case of the real mavericks, the blundering could be in multiples. From Churchill to Wilson, to Heath, Thatcher, our current Prime Minister and even the smoothest of them all, Obama, it is within the politician's DNA to misfire at critical moments.

If keeping a perfect score-sheet was an indispensable weapon in the politician's armoury, none of them will have a career, hence the expression; all political careers end in failure. David Cameron's recent electoral victory would have not been as sweet, had it not been his previous failure to score a majority government in 2010. Tony Blair, once lost out in a bid to become the Labour candidate for the Hackney Council elections and in the same year, lost in the Beaconsfield by-election. Fast-forward fifteen years later and he was carried into Number 10 on the back of a landslide victory, ending of eighteen years of Labour in the political wilderness. He went on to be their longest serving leader.

Hiccups are necessary in political life. Without them, most people do not learn or develop the necessary muscles to steer the slippery landscape. In order to become better at something, a period of discomfort is mandatory and as such it is not the fear of falling that drives most of these talented go-getters in Westminster, it is the fear of falling and not having the ability to rise.

And with due respect, what is there to fear in the current Labour hierarchy? Why couldn't Umunna work his way back in as easily as he left? Is it Yvette Cooper (Ed Balls) or Andy Burn ham (Unions)? In the absence of a charismatic Dan Jarvis (military background) or a Tristan Hunt (social media darling and intellectual), there is no doubt the eventual winner of this Leader search, will struggle to lead Labour until 2020. Then what?

All Chuka Umunna has to do is; forget the naysayers, dust himself off, decide as to what extent he wants to pursue public service, reassert his vision and start again. If the leadership of the Labour Party is still his singular focus, then, there is no doubt he can begin to climb the ladder once more. After all, he is much nearer the top than the bottom and just like in the case of his political mentor; he still could end up residing in the house with the perfect score on the front door.

I will leave the last word to Barack Obama:

"Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you, because here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future."

Come on Chuka, replace the word America, with United Kingdom and let's go.

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