Chuka Umunna was born in 17 October 1978 to a Nigerian father and English-Irish mother. Chuka Harrison Umunna grew up in Streatham and attended local schools. He studied Law at the University of Manchester and the University of Burgundy, followed by Nottingham Law School. Following his education and further training at a City law firm, he specialised as a solicitor in employment law and acted for both employees and employers for just under decade.
Chuka was selected by Streatham Labour Party to be Labour’s parliamentary candidate in March 2008, following the retirement of Keith Hill MP, who had served the constituency since 1992. Chuka retained the seat for Labour at the May 2010 General Election, winning 43% of the vote and becoming Streatham’s first MP to have grown up in the area. He was re-elected for a third time at the 2017 General Election with a vote share of 68.5% of the vote.
In 2011 Chuka was appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. He left this role in autumn 2015. During the European Union Referendum campaign, Chuka campaigned for Britain to remain a member of the EU and was one of the political champions of Britain Stronger IN Europe. Chuka’s priority will always be his constituents and he regularly holds surgeries so that local people can speak to their MP for advice and support on a wide range of issues. He also supports and is a patron of many local community groups and organisations.
Chuka Harrison Umunna Full Biography and Profile
It was at the Labour conference in October 2012 that it first really hit home. Chuka Umunna, the 6ft-tall, immaculately tailored former lawyer, strode through the detritus of political pamphlets and sleep-deprived party activists on his way to give his first speech from the platform. A small entourage followed, expectation buzzed around him. He spoke in deliberate tones of his African father arriving in Britain with nothing, his white mother benefiting from equal pay laws, growing up in a fairer society shaped by a centre-left government. It was not exactly Obama at the Democratic convention in 2004 – Umunna’s friends say he kept his speech low-key to avoid stoking the hype – but the comparisons were inevitable.
Chuka (means “God is the greatest”) was born in 1978 in London, the son of Bennett, a Nigerian immigrant from the Igbo tribe, who arrived at Liverpool docks in the 1960s carrying a suitcase on his head and no money. Until the age of 13, Chuka Umunna had enjoyed a typically middle-class, privileged upbringing. His father was a successful businessman, his mother a solicitor from a long line of distinguished lawyers.
Then the world caved in on the teenager. His father died in a car crash in his homeland in Nigeria. Some suggest he may even have been murdered by political enemies. Whatever the truth, life was never the same again for Chuka Umunna.
Bennett’s sudden death may help to explain the week’s startling events. As a consequence of that car crash, Umunna is extremely close to his mother, Patricia, and sister, Chinwe, who has recently had a baby. Friends described them as an “incredibly tight-knit” unit, and he was unprepared for the intense scrutiny he felt they came under as a result of his leadership ambitions.
Before withdrawing from the contest, Umunna took counsel from them, The Telegraph has been told.
He had told friends he was keen to start a family himself. On Friday he concluded he couldn’t lead the Labour Party and put those closest to him in the spotlight too.
Umunna is, seemingly, a bag of contradictions. On the one hand a fiercely ambitious, sharp-suited politician, never afraid to thrust himself forward; on the other an extremely protective older brother trying to look after the women around him.
His background is a collision of worlds, too. His grandfather on his mother’s side was Sir Helenus Milmo QC, one of the most distinguished lawyers of his day – a wartime intelligence officer, prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials and former High Court judge. Chuka’s uncle, Patrick Milmo QC, is one of the leading libel lawyers of his generation.
If his family on his mother’s side had a privileged upbringing, the story on his father’s side was anything but.
Bennett Umunna, Chuka’s father, grew up in Ogbunka, a town more than 300 miles east of Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. It is an impoverished region, its lush greenery and modest settlements a world away from the gilded halls and gothic splendour of the legal world his mother was born into.
Bennett arrived in England with very little at the docks in Liverpool in the 1960s, aged 33. He studied business administration at night school while taking jobs such as cleaning cars before starting a successful business importing and exporting between Europe and west Africa.
In 1976, he married Patricia Milmo; Chuka was born two years later. Chuka – it rhymes with “snooker” – incidentally translates as “God is greater”.
“I am half Nigerian, quarter Irish, quarter English,” Umunna has said of his unlikely background. “My father was a rags-to-riches businessman who came over in the Sixties with no money. On my mother’s side, I am the grandson of a High Court judge and celebrated intelligence officer, so it’s quite an unusual combination.”
Umunna went first to a state primary and then to a minor public school in south London. He was a schoolboy chorister at Southwark Cathedral.
It was a comfortable upbringing in a large family home in Streatham in south London. Then, on April 1, 1992, his father was killed when the car he was travelling in crashed into a truck carrying logs. Just weeks earlier, Bennett, aged 51, had stood as a candidate for governor in his home state of Anambra.
At the time Nigeria was run under the hardline military leadership of General Ibrahim Babangida and corruption was rife. Bennett Umunna was running on an anti-corruption ticket in a state that, even by Nigerian standards, was notorious. “Anambra is a snakepit,” one development worker said last week.
Bennett’s death has been subject to conjecture. “Bennett had refused to have anything to do with the corruption there,” said a source close to the family. “He was killed in a car crash. Chuka doesn’t speculate on how he died. It’s upsetting enough to have lost his father so young.”
But one seasoned Nigerian expert said yesterday: “A car crash at that time, in which someone died who was anti-corruption? Yeah, of course that’s suspicious.”
A former business partner and close friend of Bennett Umunna had gone further.
“We always thought he was killed by someone, because he did things on the night of his death that he never did in Nigeria,” said the late Ron Noades, the former chairman of Crystal Palace football club in an interview in 2012. Bennett had been a director of the club. Mr Noades said: “He was travelling at night and, secondly, he got into a car with a driver who was not his regular. We always thought he was killed by someone who may have seen him as a threat.”
Umunna has rarely spoken of his father’s death but has indicated the toll it took. “He is still a massive influence and his death had a profound effect on me,” Umunna once said. “He was something of a national figure, there were thousands of people at the funeral in Nigeria.”
In frequent visits to Nigeria, he had seen poverty first-hand and wanted to do something about it. “That is where my politics start, that sense of injustice,” Umunna has said.
It was to take him on a journey to the brink of the Labour leadership. Speculation of some startling revelation about his personal, business or political life that would have caused severe embarrassment has been strenuously denied.
His sister refused to discuss his decision to quit. “It is all very private,” she said.
In his statement, Umunna said: “Since the night of our defeat last week I have been subject to the added level of pressure that comes with being a leadership candidate.
“I have not found it to be a comfortable experience.”
He has perhaps not helped himself, parading his girlfriend, Alice Sullivan, an employment lawyer, on arrival for a BBC interview last Sunday, when he laid out his credentials. It is suggested Miss Sullivan’s family were then subjected to media scrutiny.
But Umunna can feel hard done by. His team suggest that a combination of his unusual background, good looks and penchant for expensive suits made him a more interesting contender to follow than the others. Now he is out of the race, it will be a bit more mundane. The reality, of course, is that Umunna, hugely ambitious, will be back to try again.
Upon arriving at Manchester to study law (he also spent time at university in Dijon, France) he joined the Labour club but he was also carving out time to pursue his principal interest: music. Although he says he was never a “geek” at school, by the time he arrived in Manchester he seems to have undergone something of a transformation.
“He was very popular and I definitely remember him being cooler than me,” says Jonny Reynolds, a fellow student and now a Labour MP. “He was into speed garage.”
Umunna had acquired some “old school” decks and was carving out a second career as a club DJ. “I played soulful house and garage,” he says. “It’s very much part of the area of London that I come from – it’s very multicultural in a way. I love my music.” He says his style is definitely “Notting Hill carnival, not Glastonbury”.
Upon leaving university he took up work as a corporate employment lawyer with Herbert Smith in the City of London, developing a reputation for hard work and mixing with the kind of clients that Miliband has described as “predators”. “He was always very focused on his legal career and wanted to make a success of that,” says Reynolds. “If the Streatham seat had not come up, he might have waited a bit longer.” Umunna says he intended to remain a lawyer into his forties – at least.
By now Umunna was in possession of good looks, good suits (Alexandra Wood, Savile Row) decks, cash and a lifestyle that took in clubs in London, Ibiza (where his mother owns a pad called Casa Blanca) and Miami. It was a lifestyle that later provided rich pickings for those looking for dirt to throw at the shiny rising star of the Labour party after his election as Streatham MP in 2010.
Chuka Umunna is not like very many MPs. A slick ex-solicitor, with a smart use of social media channels — now even including Snapchat — he is perhaps uniquely placed to appeal to the much-mythologised group, ‘young people’.
– Chuka Harrison Umunna Full Biography and Profile