I see your crisp white shirts, your immaculately pressed suits, your perfectly knotted ties. You wear a relaxed smile as easily as any Hollywood actor, a photogenic charm-lord who could chat the knickers off a nun. You’re as precise and engineered as a Selfridges window display, a human mannequin on which to hang a facade that both enthralls and intrigues. You’re so polished that passing cats attack their own reflections in your shoes, a politician so slick and presentable that you should have slipped into the tight little corridors of power like a buttered dolphin. Except it didn’t really work out like that, did it?
For three short days back in 2015 you seemed Ed Miliband’s hairless apparent, a shiny new talent with the intelligence and popular appeal to re-energise Labour’s base. Then the press intrusion became too much, your personal Icarus moment ending in the glare of The Sun. You pulled yourself out of contention in the manner of a true Catholic by not finishing properly and deluding yourself that you somehow hadn’t royally fucked it. Then along came Corbyn, a protest vote against the false tokenism of polished Blairites past, a rebellious gesture that somehow snowballed past everyone’s expectations. Your crisp suits became an unpleasant reminder of yesterday’s failed promises, replaced with rubbish cardigans and falafel sandwiches and bothersome actual principles.
It’s too narrow-minded, lazy and nonsensical to dismiss everyone within Labour’s disgruntled centre left as Blairite quislings and sappers, working as one to undermine Corbyn’s leadership. There has to be room for honest criticism and debate and that includes an acknowledgment of how hostile and toxic both the antisemitism furore and the party’s own rifts over Brexit have become. For the most part, Chuka Umunna, you manage to be calm, rational and intelligent enough to provide one of those dissenting voices. You seem to recognise the importance of sensible cross-party debate in ameliorating the Tories’ chaotic mishandling of our EU exit, choosing a thankless hill to die on, throwing yourself into the impossible job of uniting the many conflicting passions over Brexit in the name of averting a potential economic crisis. You might disagree with the party’s direction, but at least you’re trying to steer the ship in the direction you think is right.
It’s unfortunate, then, that you seem to save up your most vocal and hyperbolic criticisms of Corbyn for those deluded and recurring moments when Tony imagines he’s seen the Blair-signal light up the night sky and decides it’s once again worth chipping in with his two pence of blood money. Blair is still convinced he’s the life of the party, despite the fact he’s now stood alone in the kitchen with the lights off. That he’s still talking to himself even when everyone is now outside chugging Jagerbombs speaks volumes as to just how drastically he continues to miss the point. It’s poor timing on your part, Chuka Umunna, and in terms of perception it hitches your complaints to Blair’s irrelevant little wagon. Then you couple the pincer attack with your “call off the dogs” schtick so soon after the party has only just started to try and build bridges with those members of the Jewish community that Corbyn has managed to alienate. It begins to feel like just another engineered attack on his leadership, rather than the spontaneous airing of any genuine frustration that I suspect you were aiming for.
Turning the screw by piling on the scandals and controversies is supposed to be the job of Murdoch and the Barclay brothers, but heaven forbid Labour pull together to display a united front in the face of all their machinations. A vaguely coherent and unified opposition should be laying waste to a government so fractured and incompetent. Instead relatively minor CLP squabbles are now national news, spun into ‘Stalinist purges’ on the part of Trotskyists and filthy commies by Joan Ryan, a woman who seems determined to supply the Telegraph with all the anti-Corbyn buzzwords they could ever dream of. Her choice of language is as deliberate as it is counterproductive, so is it any surprise that Corbyn’s supporters have as little faith in her as she clearly holds in him?
Talk of deselections does feel worryingly authoritarian, even if it comes as a response to a PLP that has repeatedly – and literally – tried to scream and shout its way over and around its democratically elected leader. It’s uncomfortable, but there’s always the alternative, isn’t there, Chuka Umunna? You’ll deny it in public until the cows come home, but there is a third way between the poles of Corbyn’s Labour and the increasingly right-wing Conservatives.
I see you move among the throng, Chuka Umunna, just another hooded figure among many. I hear the room buzzing with excited whispers, the energy among the crowd as palpable as static in the air before a storm. I see the covert little nods, the brief flashes of smiles born of subterfuge, the handshakes a silent acknowledgment of a plan long in the making finally coming together. It’s time to rise from the ashes, isn’t it? You’ve all successfully hidden your scents from Corbyn’s dogs and now it’s time for the big announcement.
I see you mount the podium, Chuka Umunna, clearing your throat and preparing for the big announcement. You’re all here, all the moderates, all the sensible voices who couldn’t bear to see Labour fail under Corbyn and have sensibly decided that sensibly splitting the vote so that they sensibly and definitely do is the only way forward. True, if you were really centrists who just wanted the freedom to vocally oppose Brexit you could have all just joined the Liberal Democrats, but where’s the arrogance and sense of entitlement in that?
I see your hands move towards your hood, Chuka Umunna, and I see them freeze as light suddenly fills the room.
I hear the popping of flashbulbs and see the faces wincing, Chuka Umunna. I see the identities exposed, the eyes blinking, the story breaking before your eyes. I see you retreat, scanning the room, seeing the journalists close in from every side, hungry and desperate for the scoop on just who’s stepping up to take on Corbyn. I hear the growls and yelps begin to spread.
And then, Chuka Umunna? Then I hear the snapping of teeth, and among the flashes of light and the clicks and whirs of camera shutters I hear the snarls and cries of pain.
I see you back away slowly, Chuka Umunna. Nobody saw your face and you’re pretty sure nobody got a picture. This was supposed to be your coronation, but it’s become painfully apparent that there was no need for any dogs here. Illuminate them in the light of publicity and there’s no need; the opportunists will always bare their teeth, and the centre left will eat itself.
I see you grip the door handle and quietly make your exit, Chuka Umunna, leaving the warehouse and the screams to the night behind you. Turns out there really isn’t anyone with the presence to lead such a pointless endeavour, so it’s back to the fold with your tail between your legs you go. This isn’t quite the glorious toppling of Corbyn you’d imagined, is it? Blair’s right, and there’s nobody taking Labour back just yet. Turns out that for now at least, ain’t nobody leads them better, and Lord knows Chuka Khan’t.
I see you, Chuka Umunna. I fucking see you.