Chuka Umunna was born in London, England. His father, Bennett Umunna, of the Nigerian Igbo ethnic group, died in a road accident in Nigeria in 1992. Umunna’s mother, Patricia Milmo, a solicitor, is of English-Irish background. Umunna’s maternal grandparents were Joan Frances (Morley) and Sir Helenus Milmo QC, a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. He is married to Alice Sullivan, an employment lawyer. The couple have one child, born in 2017.
Umunna was educated at Hitherfield Primary School in Streatham, South London, and the Christ Church Primary School in Brixton Hill. He said that his parents felt that the local state school had “given up on him” and as a result had moved him to the boys’ independent senior school St Dunstan’s College, in Catford in south-east London, where he played the cello.
During this period, he was also a chorister at Southwark Cathedral. He was awarded an upper second class LLB in English and French Law from the University of Manchester; after graduating, he studied for one term at the University of Burgundy in Dijon, before studying for an MA at Nottingham Trent.
He said that his politics and moral values came from Christianity, but that he is “not majorly religious”.
After university, in 2002, he began work as a solicitor for the City of London firm Herbert Smith. In 2006, he joined Rochman Landau (now Ashfords LLP), specialising in employment law. From 2006 onwards, Umunna began to write and provide commentary on the Labour Party, as well as broader social and economic issues, usually in his capacity as a member of the Management Committee of the Labour-aligned Compass pressure group.
He also wrote articles for the Financial Times, Tribune, The Voice, The Guardian and the New Statesman, and began to appear on various radio and television programmes as a commentator. He founded and edited the online political magazine, The Multicultural Politic. In 2007, he campaigned for Jon Cruddas’ unsuccessful bid to become Labour deputy leader.
In March 2008, Umunna was adopted as the Labour Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Streatham. At the 2010 general election, he was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Streatham with a 3,259 majority; he gave his maiden speech on 2 June 2010. He took a particular interest in economic policy and reform of the City.
Umunna is associated with the Labour Friends of Israel; along with Liam Byrne, he made an official visit to Israel in October 2012 as part of the LFI’s UK-Israel Economic Dialogue group.
Umunna increased his majority to 13,934 at the 2015 General Election, with 53 percent of the vote in his constituency.
Umunna has described himself as being “One Nation Labour” and has written articles promoting the “Blue Labour” trend. He has also described himself as a “modern European social democrat”.
Umunna argued that the Conservative-led Coalition Government (2010–2015) should revise its programme of fiscal consolidation, take a tougher stance with the British banking industry and take action to transform the credit ratings agency market. Umunna was one of 73 Labour MPs to nominate Ed Miliband in the 2010 Labour leadership election to succeed Gordon Brown as party leader.
Treasury Select Committee
In June 2010, he was elected as a member of the Treasury Select Committee. In January 2011, Umunna questioned the chief executive of Barclays, Bob Diamond, in relation to alleged tax avoidance activities by the bank during which he disclosed that the bank used over 300 subsidiary companies in offshore jurisdictions.
In response to a question from Umunna, Diamond admitted in February 2011 that Barclays had paid £113m in UK corporation tax in 2009, despite making £11.6bn in profit. He held this position until his appointment to Shadow Minister for Small Business and Enterprise.
In October 2010, following Miliband’s election as party leader, Umunna was appointed to serve as his Parliamentary Private Secretary and, in May 2011, he was appointed to the position of Shadow Minister for Small Business and Enterprise until his promotion to the Shadow Cabinet.
Umunna was promoted as Shadow Business Secretary on 7 October 2011, replacing John Denham, who announced his retirement from front-bench politics. Following his appointment, Umunna re-affirmed Labour’s commitment to introducing a graduate tax in place of university tuition fees.
In January 2012, Umunna joined Ed Miliband and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves in calling on PM David Cameron to block a £1.6m bonus for Stephen Hester, the chief executive officer of the publicly owned Royal Bank of Scotland Group.
During 2013, Umunna led claims that the Government’s valuation of the Royal Mail during its privatisation had effectively “shortchanged” the taxpayer, a view supported by the significant rise in the share price following the sale and the subsequent summoning of bankers to a parliamentary investigation.
In early April 2013, Umunna’s law firm was linked to favourable updates made on his Wikipedia page in 2007, which included a reference to him being tipped as the “British Barack Obama”.
In the same month, Umunna was criticised for comments he had made in his mid 20s on the exclusive social network ASmallWorld about the West End of London. Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris said the 2006 comments, describing people visiting nightclubs in the West End as “trash” and “c-list wannabes”, showed a “lack of respect for the public”; Umunna stated that the comments were meant to have been “light-hearted in tone and context” but appreciated that “the choice of words used were not appropriate” and apologised for any offence.
Umunna was accused of hypocrisy for accepting a £20,000 gift from a gambling executive despite campaigning against the spread of betting shops in his constituency and promising new powers to limit them.
In early May 2014, Umunna raised concerns in Parliament and public over the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca, by the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, on the grounds of ensuring British jobs and interests.
Leadership election and withdrawal
Following Labour’s defeat in the 2015 general election and the resignation of leader Ed Miliband, Umunna was identified as one of the potential candidates to take over as leader of the party.
He called for Labour to target Conservatives and “aspirational, middle-class voters”, saying that the party needs to be “on the side of those who are doing well.” On 12 May, he announced his candidature for the Labour Party leadership election.
Three days later, he withdrew from the contest, stating that he had been “uncomfortable” with “the added level of scrutiny that came with being a leadership candidate”. On 26 May, he announced his endorsement of Liz Kendall, who was unsuccessful in her bid for the Labour leadership.
Return to the backbenches
In September 2015, following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Leader of the Labour Party, Umunna announced his resignation from the Shadow Cabinet and returned to the backbenches, citing differences over the Brexit referendum and issues of collective ministerial responsibility.
Umunna supported “Remain” in the Brexit referendum. His constituency voted with the highest proportion of votes to remain, with 79.5%. Following the victory for the Leave campaign, Umunna proposed an amendment to the bill to trigger Article 50 calling upon the government to investigate spending £350 million a week on the NHS, which was defeated by the government. He subsequently voted for the unmodified bill to leave the EU, writing with Wes Streeting that “as democrats we must abide by the national result”.
Following his re-election in the 2017 general election, Chuka Umunna proposed a rebel amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling upon the government to “rule out withdrawal from the EU without a deal” and “set out proposals to remain within the Customs Union and Single Market”.
Three Labour frontbenchers were sacked for supporting the defeated amendment, which the Labour leadership argued conflicted with their manifesto commitment to end freedom of movement.
On 15 April 2018, Umunna attended the launch event of the People’s Vote, a campaign group calling for a public vote on the final Brexit deal between the UK and the European Union.
In August 2018, The Guardian reported that “Umunna and fellow Labour MP Chris Leslie, are widely believed to be laying the groundwork for the creation of a new [political] party although both have denied this.” In October 2018, it was announced that Umunna would serve as the chairman of a new centrist think tank called Progressive Centre UK. It was revealed that he would be earning £65,000 a year for his work on the advisory board.
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