LONDON—Britain’s answer to Barack Obama is a “no.”
Chuka Umunna’s campaign to become the country’s first black Prime Minister lasted just three days. He announced his candidacy for the Labour Party leadership on Tuesday and withdrew it on Friday.
As soon as Ed Miliband resigned after a wretched defeat to David Cameron’s Conservative Party in the general election last week, Umunna was installed as the bookmaker’s favorite to replace him. He is an eloquent, good-looking centrist, and was seen by many inside and outside the party as a perfect response to Miliband’s ultimately unsuccessful geek chic.
Umunna’s skilled media performances have long marked him out as a rising star so Westminster was stunned on Friday when he announced that he couldn’t stand the glare of press interest. "One can imagine what running for leader can be like, understand its demands and the attention but nothing compares to actually doing it,” he said. "I have not found it to be a comfortable experience.”
Advisors close to the Member of Parliament for Streatham in South London, denied that his withdrawal was designed to pre-empt an upcoming story in the press but he is said to be unhappy with the media’s intrusion into the lives of his girlfriend and family.
“There’s nothing we’re trying to hide,” an aide told The Guardian. “We’ve always had to deal with stupid stories that are not true ... We’ve always had that but nothing can really prepare you for it. It was such a big leap in what it means for his family.”
There have been reports of journalists following Umunna’s mother home from work, questioning his girlfriend and even doorstepping her 102-year-old grandmother.
"I apologize to all those who have kindly supported and encouraged me to do this and for disappointing them. I know this will come as I surprise to many but I had always wondered whether it was all too soon for me to launch this leadership bid—I fear it was,” he said. "Most importantly, I continued to have very real concerns and worry about this bid's impact on those close to me.”
Lucy Powell, the architect of Labour’s election strategy, criticized the ferocious British media for its part in the withdrawal of Umunna, 36. "Chuka Umunna is a talented and decent politician. Whatever has led him to withdraw, it can't be right he's been driven to it by intrusion," she wrote on Twitter.
The shock departure is a blow to the Labour Party, which is thought to need a radical overhaul if it is to make a strong challenge against the Conservatives at the next election. Another of the early favorites, Dan Jarvis, who was a distinguished military veteran, announced over the weekend that he would also sit out the Labour leadership contest. His wife died of cancer five years ago and he decided that his children were too young to lose a second parent.
Jarvis and Umunna were both seen as candidates who could project the Labour message beyond its core base of supporters. Four other candidates remain in the race, with a fifth expected to join in the coming days.
The new favorite is former Health Minister Andy Burnham, 45, although he is seen as a candidate from the union-friendly Left of the party, a political position that did Ed Miliband few favors. As the party looks to distance itself from this year’s election failure, Yvette Cooper is also in a tricky position. Her candidacy is undoubtedly compromised by her husband’s reputation; Ed Balls has been the architect of Labour’s unpopular economic policy since 2010. He failed to even hold his own seat in the House of Commons last week.
That leaves Liz Kendal and Tristram Hunt as the main beneficiaries of Umunna’s departure. They are both candidates from the right of the party who would look to reposition Labour in the center ground.
Some Labour activists are so unimpressed by the leadership candidates that they have called for Kier Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, to stand even though he has only been an MP for a week.