Tuesday 5 May 2020

Chuka Umunna's Jobs

About a fifth of the UK workforce is in receipt of furlough payments. Unemployment figures for March and April are yet to be released, but by the middle of last month Universal Credit applications had surged by 1.4 million. Then there are millions of hidden unemployed, such as young people who don't qualify for social security. Many more face the prospect of furloughing and taking a significant hit to their incomes, and others the awful prospect of their job evaporating completely. As matters look increasingly grim and those on the right start sharpening their knives, cheer yourself up a bit by rejoicing in the good fortune of a lucky few.

Take our old friend Chuka Umunna, for example. Since leaving parliament, he's ... done quite well for himself. According to reports, Chuka doesn't have one job. He has four. Readers will remember he found time in his busy schedule to chair a couple of meetings a month for the centrist think tank, Progressive UK. A nice non-job if you can get it. Added to his portfolio of work is Director of Digital Identity Net UK, a company that provides a one-stop shop signing in service to multiple internet outlets. Because, you know, signing in to Twitter and Facebook without clicking the remember me box is such a chore. According to the corporate blurb, "The Company is led by a team of highly accomplished individuals who have built businesses in Digital Identity, Payments, Banking, Technology and Government." Why is Chuka involved then? He's also got a gig as a Forbe's columnist writing on "leadership", and vaguely serves as a "strategic advisor" to sundry outfits on "business critical issues."

Readers might recall Chuka was a junior lawyer for the best part of the 00s (this sretch of his life is now rebranded as a "a corporate employment law solicitor in the City and central London") before latching on to the soft left platform Compass as his means of bagging a safe Labour seat. Inexplicably a recipient of much hype off the back of a couple of so-so Question Time appearances, he was recognised and elevated under Ed Miliband just as he traded the politics of Compass in for the Blairist continuity of Progress. Following a failed leadership bid in 2015 and perennial cultivator of a new centrist party, you'll remember the happy day he and his scabrous cohort left Labour. Then followed the wry amusement when their desperate project was dashed by political realities and he traded up to the Liberal Democrats - with a very brief moment of leading "The Alternative", or half of the CUK MPs who fell out with the other half.

Chuka's passage into corporate shindiggery reminds one of George Osborne move from MP for Tatton to a one-man workforce, including his assumption of the editorship of the Evening Standard without any journalistic experience. His case is instructive because it offers a template for Chuka's trajectory. Osborne was not so much purchased for his talents as for his contact book. During his six years as chancellor and 11 years as Dave's right hand man, Osborne got to know who the key players in Conservative politics are - especially the shadowy business networks whose political inputs are kept out of the limelight. He learned how the state works, and filled his contact list with oligarchs and billionaires. Given how unseemly close the Tories under Dave grew to China, he knows quite a few of the top bureaucrats in Beijing too. Chuka is small fry compared to this. Life as a Opposition spokesperson, backbencher, leader of a micro party, and celebrity recruit to the LibDems hardly confers as much social capital. But it allows for the accumulation of enough to make a decent grift possible. When Forbes, Digital Identity Net, or whatever company buys Chuka in they're buying his legend, his ability to provide access to some elite decision makers and business interests - especially those in the so-called remain movement. They buy his knowledge of how the system works, and perhaps that little bit of media magic Chuka was able to command for a short while. They're investing their economic capital in his social and cultural capital, and he in return is recuperating the time spent in cultivating these networks in ways conducive to a healthy bank balance.

From the point of view of the mainstream, politics is not a struggle but the judicious building of strategically useful relationships. Chuka's rapid rise to the front rank of British politics and his slow sink into irrelevance, while maintaining his profile commends him to companies who think they'll profit from having a celebrated hire. And, sadly, it says everything about the rotten nature of politics and the decrepitude of British business that no marks are awarded this way and it is seen to work. That means we won't be hearing the last of Chuka and his ever-increasing pile of jobs.

Image Credit


Shai Masot said...

If Starmer can rehabilitate Blairite monsters like Wes Streeting, Liz "4.5%" Kendall, and Stephen Kinnock on Labour's front bench, it won't be long before Chuka's back with us. I don't think we've seen the last of him, and he'd be up for it. It's an ego thing.

Robert said...

Seeing all those Chuk bunnies lose their seats was the one consolation for the last awful election.

Anonymous said...

Shai Masot - he's no longer in parliament, and in a different political party. But apart from that, spot on ;)

Some comradely advice here - treating Starmer the same way the wreckers treated Corbyn, even if understandable in some respects and at times even tempting, is not going to be a winning strategy for the left.

KevM said...

A depressingly accurate appraisal, Phil.