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Rising star Umunna quits UK Labour leadership race


Chuka Umunna

Chuka Umunna

Rising political star Chuka Umunna abruptly withdrew Friday from the race to become the new leader of Britain’s defeated centre-left Labour opposition party, three days after announcing his intention to run.

In a statement, Umunna blamed the “added level of pressure that comes with being a leadership candidate”.

“I have not found it a comfortable experience,” the 36-year-old said.

In a Facebook video on Tuesday, Umunna had said he wanted to stand for the Labour leadership, following the party’s electoral drubbing last week and the resignation of Ed Miliband as leader.

Umunna was the bookmakers’ favourite. His withdrawal leaves Andy Burnham as the new favourite, with Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh and Liz Kendall the other declared runners so far.

Labour hoped to form the government after the May 7 election but was heavily defeated by Prime Minister David Cameron’s centre-right Conservatives.

Urbane and unashamed of enjoying the high life, Umunna has only served five years as a member of parliament.

However, he has impressed Labour grandees such as former prime minister Tony Blair and former European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson with his broad appeal to business leaders and traditional egalitarians alike.

If elected, he would have been the first ethnic minority leader of a major British political party and he has spoken of how his late father’s example of fighting corruption in Nigeria inspired him.

But there was concern about his lack of experience, with his stint in the shadow cabinet and membership of an influential parliamentary committee on finance his most notable achievements to date.

Umunna, a self-identified “European social democrat”, has said that Labour “can’t be afraid to say we want to help people make their first million,” in a sharp contrast to tone of the party’s election campaign.

Umunna grew up in the multi-cultural neighbourhood of Streatham in south London, which he now represents in parliament.

His father Bennett, a Nigerian immigrant from the Igbo tribe, arrived at Liverpool docks in the 1960s with only a suitcase of belongings to his name before setting up an import-export business.

His mother, Patricia Milmo, was a solicitor and daughter of High Court judge Helenus Milmo, a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Nazi trials.

Bennett, who had returned to Nigeria to run as an anti-corruption candidate, died in a road accident when Umunna was aged 13.

Umunna followed his mother into the legal profession, and built up a reputation as a slick operator with a penchant for exclusive nightclubs and bespoke suits.

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