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All a bit Irish: the British Obama who wants Ed's old job


Style and charisma: Chuka Umunna has support from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton

Style and charisma: Chuka Umunna has support from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton

Style and charisma: Chuka Umunna has support from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton

His supporters have labelled him the "British Barack Obama".

And while possible new Labour Party leader Chuka Umunna does echo the US president's politics and style, they also share another notable factor, a mixed-race heritage that includes a strong Irish element.

Umunna, who is the bookies' favourite to replace the hapless Ed Miliband, describes himself as "half Nigerian, quarter Irish, quarter English".

His father, Bennett, was a Nigerian emigrant to Britain in the 1960s who had what his son describes as the "classic rags-to-riches" emigrant story.

His mother, Patricia, is the daughter of an Irish-born UK High Court judge, who was herself raised in Furbo, Connemara.

Umunna is the grandson of Sir Helenus Padraic Seosamh Milmo, who was born in Limerick but raised in the Connemara Gaeltacht. He served as an intelligence officer with MI5 in World War II and went on to work as a prosecutor in the Nuremburg Nazi trials.

Milmo continued to work with British intelligence after the war, keeping tabs on Soviets agents in Britain. In 1951, he was tasked with investigating Kim Philby, a fellow intelligence officer who was later revealed to be spying for the Russians.

The Anglo-Irish lawyer and intelligence officer concluded that Philby "is and has been for many years a Soviet agent. But the case remains unproven." Milmo was later criticised for being "too much of a gentleman" to force a confession out of his brother officer.

Philby continued to work as a double-agent for the Soviets until he was finally unmasked in 1961, when a KGB defector confirmed the long-held suspicions.

Umunna's father, Bennett, was killed in a road accident while on business in Nigeria in 1992. To this day, friends of the family claim it may not have been an accident, as Bennett had started to involve himself in politics in his native country and may have made enemies.

His 36-year-old son is now seen as one of the strongest contenders for the Labour Party leadership. And possibly Britain's first black prime minister. Umunna has plenty of high-profile supporters, including Labour Party grandees Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson and has also received favourable reviews from former US president Bill Clinton.

"He's on a trajectory which could take him far," said Peter Mandelson last year.

He is young, successful (Umunna worked as a City lawyer in London before entering full-time politics) and regarded as one of the most stylish and charismatic young politicians in the UK. Umunna is very much the archetypal GQ Man, with good looks, suits from Savile Row, a very polished persona and a media-savvy approach to politics.

Once named Britain's Most Fanciable Male Politician by Sky News, the MP for Streatham in London is seen as confident (some say overly so), business-friendly and camera-ready - all qualities judged to have been lacking in Ed Miliband.

However, his many detractors, both within and outside Labour, paint him as a Blair-clone, charismatic and convincing but lacking the core principles of the party, of being more committed to the cause of Chuka Umunna than anything else.

But the young MP has shrugged off the derision and concentrated on building support for himself within Labour as he pushes towards the top job.

Umunna has carefully crafted a pro-business, pro-innovation, positive message. It is one that the Labour Party, now reeling from an unexpectedly devastating defeat, may be eager to listen to.

This distant son of Connemara could be about to take one of the top jobs in British politics. And then set his sights even higher.

Indo Review