Chuka Umunna joked his way through the monthly press gallery lunch in Westminster today, opening by telling journalists that he couldn’t possibly be “bling” because he cuts his own hair.
The Shadow Business Secretary managed to navigate an hour or so of speech and questions without a serious stumble, though the relief on his face when it was all over was evident. “You made it through!” a colleague shouted as Umunna was leaving. “Just about,” he shot back as he made for the lifts and away from the lair of the lobby.
The lunch, for parliamentary journalists and their guests, is nowhere near as adversarial as Umunna may have thought, which is ironic given his choice of topic: the Punch and Judy nature of Prime Minister’s Question Time. “We’re ridiculously adversarial and far too tribal,” he told journalists, adding: “PMQs is one of the worst advertisements for politics there is.”
Instead he proposed a set of three questions, put to the PM by back-bench MPs about policy, not about constituents. (The end of the inevitable: “Would the Prime Minister like to come to my constituency and visit the sausage factory to see the economic recovery in action” question each week? Surely not!).
It may have been a safe topic - and Umunna admitted he had sought the advice of his leader before his speech - but there were a few juicy moments. Colleagues put pen to paper at the mention of Vince Cable (they have a lot in common, apparently), as well as the news that the Shadow Minister is a “big fan” of Lord Heseltine and his plans to devolve more power to local government.
On the general election Umunna made it clear that Labour is aiming for an outright majority. “I couldn’t think of anything worse than having to negotiate with another party post-2015,” he said. So perhaps there’s not quite as much common ground with Vince as he’d like to make out then.