The Times on Saturday featured Labour MP Chuka Umunna for their Saturday interview. It left me frustrated that Mr Umunna is deemed to be some great new hope for this country but fear this is symptomatic of the increasing professionalisation of British politics.
I'm a Conservative so his views may well not have chimed with mine, but the problem with Umunna is he has the fantastically infuriating knack of talking without speaking. Few views were articulated for me to disagree with. In this he shares something with President Obama but this skill shouldn't be something to aspire to. Perhaps being described as the British Obama wasn't a compliment after all?
There is a difference between using the 'satisfy and steer' technique in an interview when you satisfy the question and then steer the conversation onto your key message or point of substance. Umunna has no substance. His television performances are the same, he is a competent performer who talks fluidly without saying anything of note.
A further point of annoyance is the way modern professional politicians develop a verbal tick. Ed Miliband's has "Look..." Umunna has "Frankly...." e.g. "If we look to the future, frankly we're not going to have the same money available to us" which is his way of saying something really obvious but trying to make it sound edgy.
The language he uses is like nothing you would hear on the streets of south London, the streets of the City of London or any other city in the UK. It is meaningless politician speak. Here are three examples:
- "There was a sense of fairness and equality that was an inherent part of him." (About his Dad who sadly died when Umunna was only 13);
-"If, like me, you don't believe people are inherently bad and evil..." (About the summer riots);
-"We've got to be humble enough to admit that we didn't get everything right...(About Labour's record).
The deal with giving interviews is that they are a great way to trail a story, a useful tool to get coverage for a new policy or product and allow the reader to get to know the subject of the interview a bit better. None of this was achieved in this interview. At the end of the piece by Rachel Sylvester I knew little more about Umunna than at the beginning.
Described by Sylvester as "urbane and ambitious" this seems to be journalist speak for uninspiring and on-message. If politics continues to become ever more a profession people go into via the well trodden route of press officer/special adviser/think-tank wonk then we will have much more of this and we'll all be worse off for it.