Chuka Umunna works the falafel munching faithful into a froth: HENRY DEEDES sees the political mercenary savage his old boss Jeremy Corbyn
Big up, Bournemouth! At the Liberal Conference yesterday we heard fevered clapping, giddy cheers and wolf whistles aplenty.
Who was this handsome chappie working the falafel-munching faithful into such a froth? Harry Styles? Leo Sayer?
No. Political mercenary and part-time DJ Chuka Umunna was in the house and like any seasoned crowd-pleaser, he was spinning the old classics.
Down here on the South Coast, the Lib Dems have got a spring in their sandals.
Political mercenary and part-time DJ Chuka Umunna (pictured) was in the house and like any seasoned crowd-pleaser, he was spinning the old classics
Recent defections from the Tories have swelled their previously feeble standing in the Commons to 18. Delegates are so excited they’re taking extra shots of turmeric in their spiced lattes.
It’s been three months since Chuka joined the party yet his transition’s been smoother than pulling on a pair of Gucci slip-ons.
Judging by the welcome they gave him, members are warming to the urbane ex-lawyer – and it’s not hard to discern why. Any party which recently had a crasher like Sir Ed Davey running for leader is clearly parched on the charisma front.
Incidentally, there’s a man, possibly of no fixed abode, loitering outside my hotel who claims to have been at school with Davey, informing anyone who’ll listen: ‘I could tell you some interesting things about ’im.’ I highly doubt it.
Anyway, back to Chuka’s speech. Dressed in an on-message yellow tie and a blue suit so tautly tailored it could have been spray-painted on, he freestyled for 30 minutes. No notes, no autocue.
Judging by the welcome they gave Chuka, members are warming to the urbane ex-lawyer – and it’s not hard to discern why
‘Joining the Lib Dems is one of the best political decisions I’ve made,’ he announced, sounding a little like an actor in a car insurance commercial.
It had not been a decision, he assured the audience, made out of naked self-interest. Heavens, who would think such a thing?
There was some respectful riffing from the party’s constitution which had white beards all around the hall twitching with satisfaction.
There was even a doff of the cap to a previous speech by ex-leader Sir Ming Campbell, perched attentively on the front row. ‘Don’t worry, I’ve done my homework,’ chameleon-like Chuka grinned. Yes, I bet he had.
Dressed in an on-message yellow tie and a blue suit so tautly tailored it could have been spray-painted on, Chuka freestyled for 30 minutes. No notes, no autocue
He then launched into a lengthy paean to our unelected Meisters in the European Union. ‘We’ve spent far too long apologising for being pro-European!’ he bellowed.
Is that true? Conference certainly thought so. In front of me an old dear in an EU beret yelped her approval. Some lightish digs at Boris fell flat. ‘He says he wants to be a modern-day Winston Churchill,’ Chuka scoffed, flashing his audience a quizzical raised eyebrow. ‘But he then goes and sacks Churchill’s grandson!’
I would have thought most Lib Dems would see such disregard for political nepotism as a good thing but hey ho.
His real venom was saved for Jeremy Corbyn, whose leadership forced Umunna to quit Labour in February.
By the time he finished the audience were on their feet as this unlikely new darling of the beardie-weirdies slowly made his way down the steps toward the waiting arms of his new leader, the click-click of the paparazzi following his every step
We had all Corbyn’s greatest loony hits – his support for Venezuela, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah. Worst of all, he claimed, JC was – gasp! – a secret Brexiteer.
Then, a kiss-the-ring moment. The time had come, he said with an earnestness hard not to find admirable, for Jo Swinson to be Prime Minister. ‘Under Jo’s premiership,’ he said, before pausing theatrically. ‘Actually that kinda trips off the tongue doesn’t it? Let me say it again! “Under Jo’s premiership…”’
Oh Chuka, you creep! ‘Under my premiership’ would surely sound even sweeter.
By the time he finished the audience were on their feet as this unlikely new darling of the beardie-weirdies slowly made his way down the steps toward the waiting arms of his new leader, the click-click of the paparazzi following his every step.
Not since a wide-eyed Norma Desmond sashayed down the staircase in the final moments of Sunset Boulevard, battily declaring: ‘I’m ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille!’ has a descent looked so painstakingly choreographed.
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