Owen Smith, if I gotta…
I joined the Labour Party almost immediately after the 2015 election, thinking (not knowing much — anything- about its pool of potential leaders) a cast of brilliant, charismatic politicians would put themselves forward. They would have a showdown over what to do about welfare and immigration, I thought, and then the winner would grapple with the very serious problems that election unearthed for Labour electorally and make things look a little less bleak.
Instead, Andy Burnham flip flopped all over the place until I decided I even liked ultra-right Liz Kendall more than him, and Yvette Cooper had an enthusiasm deficit with a pretty dull campaign. In terms of who stood out, Jeremy Corbyn was the only show in town. I had doubts about him then, nearly voting for Cooper, but in the end, the truth was that none of the candidates frankly seemed like a Prime Minister, and Corbyn was a pretty charismatic speaker and he was advocating things that many members have wanted for a long time. It’s no wonder he won.
At the risk of being accused of being brainwashed by mainstream media, or of being a Blairite, I will be voting this week for Owen Smith in the Labour leadership election, and these are some reasons why.
Firstly, I’ve not really rated his performance in attacking the Tories, in PMQs or more broadly. He’s been good on occasion, but it’s not good enough to be good on occasion. Coming off holiday to deal with the Tata Steel Crisis and making the Tories look slow and unprepared in comparison for example— really good. Sometimes his PMQs style has worked well, too. But I think my main problem with him is summed up by his own comment in the Vice documentary that was made a few months back. Corbyn and his staff argue over including more detail in a speech to be delivered by Corbyn in the Commons about the disastrous Osborne budget and Duncan Smith’s resignation due to it being far too harsh on poorer people, while at the same time giving richer people a tax break (you’d think this would be catnip to a Labour leader). Corbyn thinks they shouldn’t, saying it’s not his duty.
If it isn’t his duty as leader of the Opposition, what is his duty exactly?…
There’s also been some pretty serious policy gaffes and media own-goals to do with them. I know there’s (a pretty silly in my opinion) debate about what he meant, but the day after the referendum result he stated Article 50 should be triggered “now”. I listened to this interview myself the day after the referendum and it was pretty obvious to me he meant in the short term if not immediately. Without meaning to be harsh, he fluffed it, badly. And, actually, therefore, I haven’t really had the impression of him as someone who wants to get down to the nitty gritty of policy; to echo Helen Lewis (there’s me leaving myself open to charges of brainwashing!), I think Corbyn would always do the principled thing, no matter what the consequences are. Not exactly a criticism in itself, but actually there are consequences (electorally and as a consequence, in peoples’ lives) and I’m not sure I can get behind the strategy because of that.
The government have made many U-turns on ill-thought out policies and Corbyn has made a contribution to these, but actually it’s broadly due to the Conservatives’ small majority that these have happened, as well as activity in the House of Lords. Tax credits, and the forced through academy plans, for example- these were due to rebellions from the more conscientious of the Conservative MPs. Give the Conservatives a higher majority and these MPs’ views are no longer as important- they can do what they want, and I point out with no pleasure that the current cabinet is very right-wing indeed. It’s these consequences that worry me, if Corbyn stays and Labour do badly at the next election.
The reason I worry about these consequences is because it’s become obvious to me that Corbyn will likely gift Theresa May with a large majority at the next election. Labour has been behind in about 95 of the last 100 polls of voting intention, but this has taken a 10–14 point deficit to the Tories in the latest ones. This is being dismissed by some through how blame is (justifiably to a large extent in my opinion) placed upon the 80+% of Labour MPs who voted no confidence in Corbyn; the implied argument that Labour will recover upon ‘coming together and getting behind the leader’.
But, I would say, and I know May is on a honeymood period, isn’t the damage already done to Corbyn? How are Labour MPs at the next election going to convince people that actually now they do think he’s Prime Ministerial when there’s such a wealth of statements, from even the soft-left of the party, that they think he’s rubbish? On top of this, how are they going to defend points like ‘friends’ of Hammas, IRA, accusations of anti-Semitism and anti-Britishness? Especially when unfortunately the public mood is pretty inward looking right now. The Conservatives will be ruthless, they will hammer Labour with this, and they will be successful because it will feed into a (sometimes very unfair) perception of Corbyn that I think has been framed. It’s not just about Corbyn; the Labour brand risks being damaged long term, too. Theresa May also appears at the moment to have more gravitas unfortunately, and her approval ratings are much, much higher.
Owen Jones wrote a very good piece on the challenges facing Corbyn’s Labour and I just don’t see Corbyn and his team as capable of overcoming them. https://medium.com/…/questions-all-jeremy-corbyn-supporters…
I know that what’s lacking from this write-up is any real endorsement of Owen Smith’s ability to improve Labour’s chances. This is a fair critique to some extent, but I don’t think he’s without qualities. I have been impressed on occasion by his skills at being interviewed, I don’t agree with the view that he doesn’t believe in what he is saying, and really I think Labour needs a fresh start from all of this baggage.
Maybe I am wrong, and unity and a refreshed strategy from Corbyn will improve Labour’s prospects, but actually my view is that there will be consequences to Corbyn staying as Labour leader, and I’m not comfortable with voting for him because of that. This isn’t true of all Corbyn supporters but actually I worry that support for him is based on the worry that the Labour left will never again have the chance to govern rather than belief in his competence. I think this is a legitimate concern, but actually I think there are consequences and too much baggage to Corbyn. On balance, I’ll be voting for Owen Smith.