I am Chuka Umunna (Chuka Harrison Umunna) and was born in October 1978 to a Nigerian father and an English-Irish mother. My father was 23 when he arrived in Liverpool in 1964. He had one suitcase and no money. He found a job as a cook in South London, then worked in a car wash.
My mother was a probation officer and in those early years she supported the family while my father built up his business. Later she set up a catering business, ran a market stall and then became a lawyer. I grew up in Streatham and attended local schools. Before going to university I worked on a market stall at weekends with my mother and sister.
I studied Law at the University of Manchester and the University of Burgundy, as part of the Erasmus programme, followed by Nottingham Law School. After training at a City law firm, I specialised as a solicitor in employment law acting for both employees and employers for just under a decade.
I’ve been MP for Streatham since May 2010
I’m very proud to be Streatham’s first MP to have grown up in the area, and my number one priority will always be my constituents.
I was re-elected with an increased majority in 2015 with 53% of the vote and 68.5% of the vote in 2017. I served as Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills from October 2011 and I returned to the backbenches in September 2015.
In the EU Referendum I campaigned for Remain
I took a leading role in the Britain Stronger IN Europe campaign, and led the Labour IN for Britain campaign in London – making the case for Britain to stay in the EU.
Following the referendum, I set up Leave Watch to hold leading members of the Vote Leave campaign to account for their promises, and became Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on EU Relations.
I also Chair the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration to find ways of bringing our different communities together.
In February 2019, I resigned my membership of the Labour Party
6 of my Labour colleagues and I made the difficult decision to leave our party and set up The Independent Group in Parliament. We were later joined by further Labour and Conservative MPs.
Labour failed to provide opposition on Brexit, and developed a toxic culture of antisemitism and bullying, targeting anyone who disagreed with the leadership.
The Independent Group seeks to build an alternative to the old, dysfunctional politics of the main parties.
I’m a lifelong Crystal Palace supporter
I worked in the box office at Selhurst Park as a teenager, and have been a fan of Crystal Palace since I was young, having regularly attended matches there with my late father.
I am also a patron of the Palace for Life Foundation, the charitable arm of the club, who focus on working with young people in South London, helping them grow through the power of sport and find a better path in life.
I host an occasional radio show on Mi-Soul radio
Check out the tracks from my latest show with the best of Jungle, Hip-Hop, Soul, Funk, House, Garage and R&B.
I am an ambassador for PRS Foundation who fund music projects across the UK for new and up and coming artists, and a patron of the Pegasus Opera Company, who create opportunities for young black singers from all backgrounds to develop and perform in innovative opera productions.
I was also a DJ while at university, and wrote for Touch magazine (an urban music magazine).
Away from politics I spend my time with my wife and family
We have a young daughter who was born in 2017. One of our favourite holiday spots is Cornwall where we often go to wind down.
At the end of a busy week there’s nothing I like more than a night in with the girls.
Statement: Resignation from the Labour Party
I resigned my membership of the Labour Party and, from hereon, I will continue to serve the parliamentary constituency of Streatham as an independent MP. I set out below the reasons for this decision which are rooted in my values and principles.
I became a political activist to change our country and take it in a progressive direction.
I believe we live in a great country with a proud history and a future full of possibility. But, too often, the circumstances of your birth dictate your life chances in Britain however hard you work and we have an economic model that delivers for too few people. We face the challenges of globalisation, technological transformation, an ageing population, terrorism, climate change and more.
As a social democrat and a progressive, I believe that individual freedom and the ability to lead a happy, fulfilling life relies on a strong society that collectively ensures everyone is provided with the tools to reach their full potential, and where those who cannot provide for themselves are properly supported.
Reciprocity demands that if you work hard and play by the rules, the economy will ensure you are rewarded. It also means that in return for the support we enjoy from society through the state, we all have individual responsibilities.
At the core of my beliefs is the value of work. Work not only provides us with the means to prosper economically but it has a value in and of itself that gives purpose and mission in life. It is our mission to ensure work pays and provides a level of security in a fast changing world where the nature of work is changing.
Of course, there is more to life than work. Family life, in all its forms, are the building blocks of every community which motivates people, connects them to each other and gives life meaning. Belonging to a community fulfils our need to be part of something common and neighbourly.
I believe in achieving these aims through a parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, and a society in which everyone is free from discrimination and has equal voice in how society is run. This requires that, whenever possible, decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level.
I am also unapologetically patriotic. I respect the history and traditions of this country and will do whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s national security. I am resolutely internationalist too because I believe we cannot build a good society at home in isolation from the global forces which are buffeting our people around. Where appropriate, we should pool power and work as closely as possible with other nations which share our values to shape the work we live in and protect our planet.
These are the values and beliefs which have always driven my politics. I joined Labour in the expectation that this was the best way of being true to and advancing these values and beliefs and put myself forward as Labour’s candidate for the first time in our constituency in 2010 to deliver on all of this for the sake of our community.
However, the party I joined has changed beyond recognition these last few years. It is, to all intents and purposes, a new and different party. The membership of Labour has substantially risen these last few years. But it is clear that those who belong to the political tradition with which I identify are no longer welcome in the party. Given my values and principles, I can no longer in all conscience continue as a member of the party and argue for its election to Government.
In light of what we have witnessed these last three years, I do not support the Labour Leader taking the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, nor do I have confidence in him and his team to make the right decisions to safeguard our national security. I believe I owe it to you to be clear about this.
The party’s collective failure to take a lead and provide sufficiently strong, coherent opposition to Tory Government policy on the UK’s relationship with Europe, with all the adverse implications this poses for the working people of this constituency, is a betrayal of the labour interest and Labour’s internationalist principles. So many families in our area, like me, have relatives from EU countries and feel grossly betrayed by the party.
I support the liberal, international rules based order underpinned by NATO – which Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin were instrumental in establishing – set up in the wake of the Second World War. This demands the UK plays an active role on the international stage. Through its lukewarm attitude towards NATO, reluctance to act where necessary, and willingness often to accept narratives promoted by states hostile to this country, the party’s leadership has turned its back on this history.
Before the last election I made it clear in my public interventions that I had differences with the leadership of the party on the above, so much of this will not be news to many. There is no doubt these differences have become much more pronounced since then.
Above all, I have observed with great alarm the changing culture within the party. Visceral hatred of other people, views and opinions, something completely contrary to our values, is common place in the party. Bullying behaviour by supporters of the leadership – on and offline – is tacitly sanctioned. I have been ashamed of the antisemitism which has been allowed to percolate through the party at all levels. Not only does it fly in the face of the party’s history of fighting racism but it has revealed attitudes which are anything but respectful, liberal or open minded. I no longer wish to be part of such a culture.
Labour was not a serious prospect for Government before the 2017 election; but the same cannot be said after which is why these matters have weighed with me ever since. I also hoped to be in a better position to influence the Brexit process in the party but it is now clear the leadership is determined to pursue this damaging Brexit process much like the Tories.
In truth, this goes wider than the Labour Party. I believe British politics is broken. The last few years have shown none of the established parties are up to the challenge of changing Britain because they have become the problem. They have failed to provide the leadership and clear direction which the UK desperately needs. They are deeply divided. They have failed to fulfil their duties with the competence the public rightly deserves. They have put their own party political interests before the national interest. They do not represent the complex tapestry which is modern Britain. So we need an alternative which I am keen to work with others to build and would invite you to join in this endeavour.
For all these reasons, I have taken the painful and immensely difficult decision to leave the Labour Party. In so doing, I respect those who subscribe to the same values but have chosen a different course. I recognise that we are all seeking to do the right thing in the national interest yet can come to different decisions – I hope I will be afforded the same respect too.
Since I was elected in 2010 I have helped over 17,000 constituents with case work and campaigned on various issues on behalf of our community in Parliament and nationally. I look forward to continuing this important work as an independent MP.
- Chuka Harrison Umunna Biography and Profile (Chuka Umunna)