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Umunna quits Labour leadership race

Published 15/05/2015

Shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh.
Shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh.

Chuka Umunna has dramatically quit the Labour leadership race, citing "very real concerns and worry about this bid's impact on those close to me".

The shadow business secretary announced he was withdrawing from the contest to succeed Ed Miliband, just days after declaring he would be a candidate.

In a statement, the frontrunner to head the party's rebuilding after last week's general election defeat said he had underestimated the level of scrutiny to which he and his family would be subjected.

"As a member of the shadow cabinet, I am used to a level of attention which is part and parcel of the job. I witnessed the 2010 leadership election process close up and thought I would be comfortable with what it involved.

"However, 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.

"One can imagine what running for leader can be like, understand its demands and the attention but nothing compares to actually doing it and the impact on the rest of one's life.

"Consequently, after further reflection I am withdrawing my candidacy."

Sources close to Mr Umunna insisted that his withdrawal was not due to any negative story which he expects to appear in the media.

It is understood that he was uncomfortable with the increased level of scrutiny which had been directed at him and members of his family, including his mother, since he declared his intention to stand for the leadership.

His team were confident that he would secure the 35 nominations from fellow MPs required to mount a leadership bid, but he decided that it was not the right time for him to press ahead.

He is not at this stage endorsing any other candidate for the leadership.

Mr Umunna, who said he hoped to remain a member of the shadow cabinet, apologised to those who supported his bid and said he had always harboured doubts about whether he was ready to step up to the biggest role.

"I apologise to all those who have kindly supported and encouraged me to do this and for disappointing them. I know this will come as a surprise to many but I had always wondered whether it was all too soon for me to launch this leadership bid - I fear it was.

"Most importantly, I continued to have very real concerns and worry about this bid's impact on those close to me.

"I intend to carry on playing my full role as a proud member of our shadow cabinet taking on the Tories.

"I also hope to play a leading role in Labour's campaign to keep the UK in the EU during the forthcoming referendum, which is absolutely crucial. Most importantly, I will as ever continue to serve the area I know and love - the Streatham parliamentary constituency."

At the weekend the politician was pictured arriving at TV studios for an interview hand in hand with his girlfriend, who had previously remained out of the public eye.

He said he had decided before the campaign started that he would pitch for the leadership if Mr Miliband failed to steer the party back into power.

"I dearly hoped Labour would win the election and it was a decision I would not have to implement. I also thought I understood the scrutiny and attention a leadership contest would bring."

The unexpected withdrawal means there are now four declared candidates: shadow health secretary Andy Burnham; shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh; and shadow health minister Liz Kendall.

Under a timetable drawn up by the party earlier this week, nominations for leader close on June 15. Members and supporters who sign up by August 12 will be entitled to vote and the result will be announced on September 12.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said he was "interested in the leadership" of the party on BBC Question Time but stopped short of declaring his candidacy.

Former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw, who is reportedly considering running for the Labour party deputy leadership, said Mr Umunna was a "terrible loss" to the field because he was the candidate the Conservatives "feared the most".

He told Sky News the shadow business secretary's decision to pull out of the race was "absolutely tragic" and said his reason for doing so was a "sad indictment" on society.

But he insisted the field remained strong, adding: "We are blessed in the Labour Party. We have a strong field of candidates.

"I'm sure when the dust settles on this, the public will have a chance to look at them."

He said he had not yet decided who he would back, but admitted he had been seriously considering Mr Umunna.

Labour's election campaign vice-chairwoman Lucy Powell ‏wrote on Twitter: " Chuka Umunna is a talented and decent politician. Whatever has led him to withdraw, it can't be right he's been driven to it by intrusion."

Some Labour figures questioned whether Dan Jarvis - the Para-turned-politician who ruled himself out of the contest to concentrate on family life - could re-enter the frame.

Bassetlaw MP John Mann wrote on Twitter of the Barnsley Central MP: "With Chuka withdrawing - a credible option according to some in my area - can Dan Jarvis not be persuaded to reconsider?"

He suggested: "Make it possible for him to do fatherhood and leadership and move party HQ to Yorkshire."

This is the second significant leadership U-turn since the general election, coming just days after Nigel Farage withdrew his resignation as Ukip leader.

Ms Creagh said the "huge pressures" placed on modern politicians could be tough on their families and friends.

"I have huge respect and genuine affection for Chuka and for all my shadow cabinet colleagues who are in this leadership race," she said.

"Chuka is a big beast, he has a huge amount to offer his party and his country and this is a decision that I am sure he has not taken lightly.

"I think there are huge pressures placed on modern day politicians. We are expected to be available 24/7 and there is no doubt that modern political life does put strain on family and on friends.

"But Chuka's decision is the one that he has made and we need to look to the forward and move forward."

Mr Hunt said he was "continuing to listen to colleagues" as he weighed up whether to join the race.

He will tomorrow join the four declared candidates at a high-profile debate at the annual conference of the Blairite think-tank Progress.

Addressing his local party in Stoke-on-Trent this evening, he is expected to say: "Last week's general election result was a devastating defeat for the Labour Party.

"No one individual has the answer to meet the enormous challenge of how we renew and rebuild our party, to earn the trust of the British people once again.

"We must use this leadership election to ask some very profound questions. All voices in the party must be heard so that we can have a full and proper assessment as to why the politics of nationalism triumphed in Scotland and huge swathes of England, and how we have allowed the Conservative Party to present a more compelling vision for Britain to so many millions of people.

"As today marks the official beginning of the contest, I am continuing to listen to colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party on their views on how we rebuild the Labour Party to get us back into government.

"I will tomorrow join leadership contenders at Progress's Annual Conference to set out my analysis on how we begin to understand what went so wrong and why."

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