Chuka joining the Lib Dems is good for him, the Lib Dems and UK politics

Chuka Umunna becoming a member of the Liberal Democrats is good for him, the Liberal Democrats and politics in the UK. There are several and important, obvious and not as obvious, reasons why this is so.

Chuka Umunna is clearly an able, dynamic, eloquent personality. Anybody who has seen him relate to and engage with people, can see this. At home on television, with interviewers, on platforms, he is a communicator who is a good talker and listener. And he is as at ease with school kids and young people in their turf as he is in the Westminster bubble.

He brings with him knowledge of and a background from, South London and its diverse communities. I am from South London and have been a resident of Streatham too. I know he has a high reputation there.

He has in his biography, some remarkable elements, not as often alluded to. His African father Bennett Umunna, came to the UK with no money. He started and built a successful import and export business. He became involved in Nigerian politics, and his stand against corruption brings some to the conclusion that his tragic demise, in a car accident when young Chuka was in his early teens, was no accident. Bennett had met and married  Patricia Milmo, a solicitor. Chuka’s mother is the daughter of Sir Helenius Milmo, a prosecuting lawyer at the Nuremberg trials. What few know, is, they are also descendants of a great Liberal politician Samuel Morley.

I have a particular feeling for Samuel Morley, whose statue I often see in Nottingham’s Arboretum, was Liberal member of parliament in the Gladstone era, for Nottingham, then, for Bristol. He is a model of everything the classical Liberals were, that influenced the social Liberals later. He ran a textile business in Nottingham and London, that became the greatest lace manufacturer in the world for a period. He treated his workers, mainly women, with respect, conditions in his premises were of a very high standard. And he was one of the first employers of this kind to give old age pensions. He was a philanthropist, supporting cultural and educational projects. Morley College has his name. He was also active as a Christian abolitionist, anti slavery campaigner. Developing, as I am, a musical, Tom’s Cabin, I have written, based on the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel, I am fascinated by the role this Liberal lion played in helping the runaway slave Josiah Henson, who had fled the USA, settle in Canada. Henson was someone who was amongst the influences that inspired Stowe’s book.

Chuka Umunna is a social liberal, social democrat. He is not a careerist, he is someone who put his career on the line in the Labour party to fight antisemitism openly, and Brexit, fully. Would that more there did!

He has and does make mistakes. Who doesn’t?! Chuka Umunna is a positive and plucky recruit to the Liberal cause. I, as someone who has reached out to TIG, Change UK, supporters, welcome him and with real warmth.

* Lorenzo Cherin is an actor, writer, and regular contributor to politics as a member of the Liberal Democrats. He is based in Nottingham.

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21 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jun '19 - 10:05am

    The episode of Have I Got News For You which was pulled by the BBC has since been broadcast and repeated.
    In the following episode Ian Hislop of Private Eye wondered why the episode had been pulled, but there was no satisfactory answer.
    Heidi Allen did not say anything controversial, or indeed newsworthy.
    Jo Brand was in the chair.

  • Thank you for your article Lorenzo – it’s very interesting.

    I wonder if the reason many paint Chuka as a bit ‘slippery’ or whatever negative, but vague description is being used is down to the fact that he is a very good communicator, and also because he is something of an independent thinker, not quite conforming to what was expected from him.

    I think it was Paddy who said that he’d always been a Liberal Democrat, just not realised it. I think perhaps the same might apply to Chuka, now he’s taken the time to learn a bit more about what we really stand for, and not what the Labour party machine says we do.

    I wish him all the best and especially want to congratulate the local party for the way they’ve supported him in this move.

  • Interesting to hear about Samuel Morley, Lorenzo. His son Arnold was also a Liberal MP for Nottingham and in Gladstone’s Cabinet as the Chief Whip …….. and of course Ed Davey attended Nottingham High School next to the Arboretum but has yet to achieve a statue.

    Next time you tip your hat to Samuel, tip it also to Feargus O’Connor – the Chartist leader, MP for Nottingham in 1857 – and a real radical. His statue stands near Sam’s in the Arboretum.

    As to Chuka, your hero, you make him sound a bit like Lily the Pink – who invented a medicinal compound most efficacious in every way.

    I’m going to follow Asquith’s advice and “Wait and See”.

  • Typo – should be 1847.

  • Chuka’s addition to the Lib Dem front bench is very positive in my opinion. At the last GE the Lib Dems did not manage to project “a government in waiting” (difficult with only 8 MPs going into a surprise GE to be fair) so the more and larger capable team we have the better. There are so many voters out there that are looking for a competent & capable alternative to Tories & Labour (lets not forget that over 3m remainers voted Tory at the last GE despite their awful manifesto).

  • Joseph Bourke 15th Jun '19 - 12:40pm

    David Raw,

    let’s not forget Feargus O’connors land plan. He had little use for cooperatives; his plan was for peasant proprietorship. The idea was that unemployed factory workers would till their own smallholdings. He thought transfering surplus industrial workers to farming would push-up wages in manufacturing and make Britain self-sufficient in food production,
    He wasn’t the best treasurer (struggling with proper accounting) and the more land that was purchased the higher the price went. Also, townfolk not used to farming struggled with a return to the land. Besides these difficulties, hundreds of familiies were settled and the land plan offered immediate help rather than the longer term political objectives of Chartalism.

  • David Becket 15th Jun '19 - 1:10pm

    A welcome article, completely removed from the diatribe by Owen Jones in the Guardian. Jones has reason to feel bitter, his beloved socialist utopia is unlikely to happen and his Labour party have spent three years sitting on the fence providing no opposition to the chaotic Tories. Jones can see himself becoming yesterdays man. He is right in one respect, the move of Chuka to the Lib Dems shows how broken British politics has become. However it is not Chuka who has broken it, it is the leadership of the two largest parties.
    Chuka’s dilemma over the last few months will be shared by many who leave the two main parties. Most Labour and Tory MPs are in safe seats. Then do not need to campaign, their policy messages are handed down from HQ along with the mud to throw at their opponents, becoming an MP, once you have the backing of your local party, looks easy. Leave that protective bubble and reality hits. There is nobody to tell you what to say, and the mud you have been provided with looks iffy. There is no organisation to campaign. As you start to think for yourself it becomes obvious that, unless you intend to only be a one issue band, you need support and an organisation round you. The only organisations are the Lib Dems, Greens and the Nationalists. Lib Dems need to prepare for a rush, particularly if Johnson becomes our next PM. Invective from Jones and his ilk will achieve nothing. If they want to stop this they need to look at their own broken parties.

  • John Bicknell 15th Jun '19 - 3:27pm

    It is reported that there are two other Independent MPs waiting to join the Lib Dems, the issue being that their local Lib Dem parties need to be persuaded to accept them as their PPC. I am assuming (I may be wrong) that these 2 would be Heidi Allen in South Cambridgeshire and Sarah Wollaston in Totnes. Anyone local to these with any more information?

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jun '19 - 4:25pm

    Cllr Mark Wright: Check it out on catch-up.
    Comedian Jo Brand has recently needed to apologise for something she said on the radio.
    The Met police have announced they will take no further action.
    Fiona: so why did “Paddy” Ashdown join the Labour Party? Why did he leave? Or is it not true? John Major thought he was a pragmatist. Tony Blair said “You are all social democrats?” and was greeted by a chorus of ‘NO, we are Liberals!’ including Bob MacLennan.
    https://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/07/22/keynes-change-mind/

  • John Littler 15th Jun '19 - 5:47pm

    Chuka’s addition is fantastic and may herald additional MP’s jumping ship. I am also pleased to see a shift that may be starting towards the Social Liberal side on the centre left, which is the only place for the LibDems at least under FPTP voting or in terms of substantial numbers of voters. Going right is always eclipsed by the Toxic Tories and was proven to be a dead end under Mr Clegg which could have become existential.

  • We are certainly maintaining a momentum.
    I hope that we will get away from the myth that the country is in some way divided into two warring factions. The reality is that many people feel uninformed about the EU. If the Liberal Democrat’s don’t take the lead in trying to get the truth out there, then who will?

  • Ruth Coleman-Taylor 15th Jun '19 - 6:18pm

    If Chuka agrees with our values and wants to campaign as a Liberal Democrat, what’s not to like? I for one am happy to welcome him as a party colleague and I believe he has a lot to offer to our campaigning in these difficult and interesting times.
    The same goes for other people who feel that the party they joined has moved away from them or no longer stands for things they thought it did. If they can sign up to the preamble to our constitution and bring all their skills to support the Liberal Democrat cause then I’m happy to welcome them aboard. We have a a lot of tough battles ahead and new friends make the task that much more achievable.
    What I don’t want, however, is for our party to become the refuge for all the waifs and strays who don’t know where they belong politically in these interesting times. We have a set of values and objectives and they give us an inspiring caring message. What I want is for people to support our values, not just look for a cosy home in a difficult era.
    I’ve been in the party (Liberals then Lib Dems) for over 50 years, following at least 2 earlier generations of my family into activism. Present circumstances give us the best set of opportunities I have ever seen. Let’s not blow it by forgetting what we actually stand for.

  • Ruth Coleman-Taylor offers a perfectly good rough and basis for welcoming refugees from other parties – sign up to the Preamble and bring all your skills to support the cause. But as we try to balance opening the doors and drawing the lines we may need to think afresh about those whom we as a party push in the opposite direction (i.e. those we kick out). We don’t all have to wrestle with the constitutional details but it is important to have some people thinking about these things.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jun '19 - 1:30am

    The comments as often, helpful.

    Thanks David Raw particularly for your alluding to the area I know so , didn’t know you do too, great that, if you are ever in Nottingham, let me know!!!

  • Denis Loretto 16th Jun '19 - 8:09am

    As has already been said in this thread there is no such thing as people moulded into separate distinct cadres suitable only for specific political parties. We must recognise that an element in the choice made is judgement as to the likelihood of the party in question ever achieving enough clout to make a difference. There must be many, particularly in the Labour party in this category. We must do all in our power to build on the place in the sun the Lib Dems are now in. One of the weapons in avoiding this situation being temporary is to be open to people like Chuka Umunna. They must share our principles but not necessarily every jot and tittle of the interminable resolutions we love to pass at party conferences.

  • John Littler 17th Jun '19 - 7:43pm

    The SDP came to form about 1/3 of the LibDem’s merged ( with Liberals) party, most of which came out of Labour and were probably to the left of Chuka.
    I do not understand why Chuka is somehow outside of this philosophy, except that probably some here have tended to lurch back towards centre right classical, laissez faire Liberalism, which has got mixed up with the Tories and therefore would make the LibDems unable to show sufficient clear blue water to that toxic party. Voters appeared to prefer that full on version to the more watery version from LibDems like Brown.
    The coalition fall out should not be forgotten and the LibDems have to be of the Centre left to recover and thrive.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Jun '19 - 1:19pm

    Good comments from others added. Particularly glad to read those of Mark and Fiona, positive and thoughtful, yes David correct to add that Samuel indeed had son Arnold tread his footsteps, great too from Ruths Colman- Taylor and Bright, and as ever from our resident social democrat George Kendall.

    Tremendous to hear on the facebook , chat, Jo and Chuka did, that Chuka has been informed of and seen this article and thread, and didn’t know a lot about his lineage !!!

    Just as well I have long been keen on him and always said nice things about him!!!

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