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Tyne for a change

ChinyeluRaised on a poor council estate in Newcastle-upon-Tyne she became a top engineer. Now Chi Onwurah looks set to reach Westminster after being selected for Labour in her home city

Raised by a working class Geordie mother, a Labour Party activist, Onwurah said she always dreamed of becoming both an engineer and representing the area where she grew up. By the next general election she could have achieved both her lifetimes’ aims.

Daughter of a Nigerian medical student who fled the Biafran civil war, Onwurah said her family always had a strong sense that education was important. That philosophy helped her progress from a local comprehensive school to Imperial College London, where she graduated in electrical engineering.

Speaking to OBV Blog, Onwurah said that she been inspired by a number of heroes including Dr Martin Luther King, Ghandi, the suffragettes and the Tolpuddle martyrs. ‘These were people who changed the world by their own personal actions’, she said.


Chuka Umunna: "Chi will be a first class MP"

But it was the anti-apartheid movement that would inspire her to become politically active in her early 20s, when she led marches against the oppressive South African state.

After that she dedicated herself to her engineering career, working in Nigeria, South Africa and the US, and developing computer networks at Cable & Wireless among other companies. She currently works as head of telecoms technology at the broadcast media regulator Ofcom.

Now 44-years old, she was selected last week as the Labour candidate to replace the retiring Jim Cousins in Newcastle Central. Defending a notional 8,500 majority, Onwurah looks well-placed to make it to Westminster despite Labour’s current unpopularity nationally.

Significantly, the Newcastle newspapers announced her victory by emphasising her background as an engineer, not the fact that she is a black woman. Onwurah said: ‘This is because Newcastle is enormously proud of its’ engineering and industrial base.’

Onwurah’s was not a name that was speculated about on Labour blogs ahead of the selection, and it’s fair to say that in politics she’s relatively unknown outside of Tyneside. The fact that she is a local girl-made-good seems to have been a big asset in her quest to become an MP.

Campaigning in a seat that is 94% white, she said: ‘I want to reach out to the whole of Newcastle Central, and show that politics can be a partnership. The expenses scandal has damaged trust and this need to be repaired, something I hope to do as a new face.’

Chuka Umunna, who is a candidate in another Labour-held seat, Streatham in south London, said the selection of Onwurah was “just fantastic news.” He added: ‘I think she’ll be a first-rate MP.

‘The fact that she’s not from the Westminster village, that she has experience of the real world, and as a local girl, has helped. You can’t campaign in this day and age to be selected just because we need more black MPs. There’s no need to ghettoise black candidates, we should be able to make it on our talents.’

You can contact Chi Onwurah on email: chi@chi4central.com

By Lester Holloway



One Response

  1. Sounds like a real Labour hard working candidate, best of luck to her, I wish her well.

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