The hunt for a new Labour leader has begun, and with the party looking for someone untainted by Blair, with charisma, credibility and the promise of break from Labour's recent past, Chuka Umunna's name is being bandied about. He ticks most of the boxes and bookies are giving him strong odds. He has served as Shadow Business Secretary and he was the one that first accused the coalition of botching the sale of Royal Mail by undervaluing it. For the natural Tory supporters that balk at a leftish government and are preoccupied with fiscal responsibility and reducing government spending, Umunna is in favour of reducing the deficit and making any return to a 50p tax rate temporary. But there are elements that weigh against him; he's young - and, most importantly in my opinion, he's black.
If I'm being precise, Chuka is half-black, born of a Nigerian father and an Anglo-Irish mother. Oh, so you might think, like Obama with his Kenyan father and white American mother. On a basic level, their racial mixes may be the same, and many will think if Obama can become President of the United States, surely Chuka could one day be PM? I would love to believe that the UK could elect an ethnic minority head of government and global political representative if that person was the best choice for the country at the time. I would be ecstatic to see such unprejudiced and colour-blind voting. But I'm realistic enough to see this new world as quite some way off.
The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott and even going back to the 1990s with beating of Rodney King - with such high-profile cases in the US, it's easy for the us Brits to shake our heads from afar and feel some sort of superiority over our American "cousins" when it comes to race relations. But, let's not kid ourselves. We have Stephen Lawrence and Mark Duggan. Not only do we have our own less-attention grabbing incidents (Cynthia Jarrett, Leon Patterson, Joy Gardner, Alton Manning and, depressingly, the list goes on), but a recent report states that even though more than 500 people from ethnic minorities have died in suspicious circumstances while being detained by the state, not a single individual has been successfully prosecuted for any wrongdoing.
Some may argue it's a big leap to go from the "institutional racism" uncovered by the MacPherson Report to concluding the UK electorate won't vote for a ethnic minority prime minister. But prejudice tends to be subtler here. I challenge you to find any ethnic minority person from hardworking family in the UK that hasn't been told at some point "you know you will always have to work twice as hard to prove yourself". These words come not from resentment, but from loved ones that want to prepare us for the cold hard reality.
Back to the question of why Obama and not Chuka Umunna: demographics in the UK and US are drastically different. The US population consists of around 62% of white people, whereas the figure in the UK is more than 87% (according to the 2011 census). Of course, people don't always vote along racial lines, but the US is a more mixed society - despite its more obvious racial tensions. And even after Obama succeeded, he had to put up with the whole "birthers" nonsense and eventually release his long form birth certificate. It doesn't take a genius to work out what all that was about.
The underlying prejudice that still infects the UK can be summed up perfectly (and horribly) in an incident that took place this last Election Day. A friend of a friend (yes, this really did happen) overheard a local Tory councillor say to the Labour teller "Ed Miliband is a Jew. I don't trust them." For me, it's sad but not surprising to hear this in Britain in 2015. So no matter what your talents may be Chuka, whatever new dawn for Labour your tenure would represent, unfortunately, I don't think the UK is ready is for you yet.Suggest a correction