engage magazine issue 004 \'07 - Page 47

PROFILES 47 Politicians in Waiting Currently a leading organiser of the Black Socialist Society (BSS) and vice-chairman of the Streatham (who is of mixed Labour Party, English/Irish and Nigerian heritage) said his involvement in politics goes back “as far as he can remember”, stemming from both “a fascination of news and current affairs” as well as from his father, who was “very involved in Nigerian politics”. “My father was a very successful businessman,” he said, “and later on he got involved in politics in Nigeria where he undertook a complete crusade to rid the country of corruption. He also spoke out for better governance, and narrowly missed out on winning the governorship of the Anambra state shortly before he died in a car crash when I was about 13 years old.” “I got involved in politics while at Manchester University,” said Chuka, “but not student politics.” After completing his degree at Manchester University Chuka got involved with the local party (Streatham Labour Party) and had a lot of media involvement even to the extent of advising ministers on various issues. In terms of politics Chuka says his main drivers are inequality and poverty. It was both being on holiday in Nigeria when he was younger and growing up in Lambeth (one of the most deprived boroughs in the country) that the inequalities and diversity around him made a big impression on him. “In Lambeth, you have the poorer places such as Peckham and Elephant & Castle sitting next to the richer Clapham and Fulham. “It pains me to know that there are about two million pensioners in poverty and one million children in poverty,” he said, “as well as two groups in society – the rich and the poor – living two completely different lifestyles. “The middle class is reducing in number while the upper class is pulling away. This is extremely unhealthy,” he says. Chuka feels that community cohesion is paramount and has a complete disdain of ‘them’ and ‘us’ – reasons why his thinking is more aligned with the Labour Party than another party, he says. He undoubtedly wants to ensure that changes are made to the Black Socialist Society and to increase participation and representation of black and minority ethnic people in the Chuka Umunna Labour Party. He said that although 20% of the membership of the Labour Party are Black and Minority Ethnic persons, this is not borne out by the party. “Without a doubt there are barriers,” said Chuka. “Labour needs to look at this and is currently looking at this. Things have got better but needs to be much better.” He warns that although Labour has traditionally represented black people it is in danger of falling behind if representation is not increased. “It’s not just about representation, it’s also about increasing our communities’ general participation in the political process. That’s something we must work on,” he said. Although he quite clearly leads an already busy lifestyle, Chuka’s work does not stop at politics. He is editor of the online political magazine, TMP, and has written for the Financial Times, Tribune and the Voice amongst other publications. Outside politics, he is an employment lawyer working for the West End firm Rochman Landau and is also legal adviser to the progressive pressure group, Compass. Chuka is trustee of the Brixton-based 409 Project, which works with young offenders between 10-17 years old, and a trustee of the Anthony Bourne Foundation, which gives grants to organisations working with young people. But what does he think about BAME businesses and entrepreneurs? “I really do believe that we need to celebrate the role models that we have,” said Chuka. I am disappointed that Damon Buffini of the private equity firm Permira came out in the way he did (surrounding negativity). We should have heard of him before. “It’s time people know that black people are capable of doing more than sports and music. More and more people are making it in the City however there are not enough black people making it on the trading floors of the Stock Exchange or in investment banks and this is not because of the shortage of African Caribbean graduates qualified in these areas.” The next Streatham MP? A definite strong contender so let’s wait and see. ISSUE FOUR 2007 engage | uk