Owen Smith: unifying candidate, or disunifying imposter?

Owen Smith was “crowned” as the “unity candidate” for the parliamentary Labour party (PLP), after a short-lived campaign by Angela Eagle ended on the 19 July. It has been decided that he is the man to represent the 172 Labour MPs who have participated and organised the worst political coup in British history.

As soon he was crowned the “unity candidate”, Smith tried to set his “radical vision” for Labour and explained that he agreed with Jeremy Corbyn but he would be more capable of unifying the party and win the next general election.

In an appeal to the party membership, Smith said “I can be your champion. I am just as radical as Corbyn.” Furthermore, in an interview with Channel 4 News he announced, “I am on the left of the Labour party, I share many of Jeremy’s values but I think I can talk about modernising those values.”

Somehow, Smith became an anti-austerity hero, sharing the same values as Corbyn. A man in favour of peace, socialism and against austerity policies that have destroyed our communities up and down the country.

Smith assured us that he stands for peace. For example, unlike Eagle, he did not vote in favour of the Iraq War but not because he opposed the war itself, but simply because he wasn’t a member of parliament at the time.

However, when standing as a Labour candidate in a 2006 by-election, he said “We are making significant inroads in improving what is happening in Iraq”, comparing the invasion and war to the British socialists who fought in the Spanish civil war. Where was his opposition to the Iraq war then? Maybe in 2006, it was not “good enough” for an MP to oppose Tony Blair on such a subject, and as an “aspiring MP”, Smith tried to be as “Blairite” as possible at that time.

That is why in the same interview, he said he didn’t know if he would have voted for the war. What a different approach to Corbyn’s consistent opposition.

But Smith’s “radical approach” to the Iraq War was nothing, compared with his political stance against our nuclear deterrent system, Trident. Like Corbyn, Smith was once a proud member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)

But as a “true moderniser” he decided that his opposition to nuclear weapons was best served by voting in favour of renewing Britain’s £200bn nuclear deterrent in parliament. As he explained later, his opposition to the renewal of Trident has since changed and now, if elected prime minister, he would not hesitate to use our nuclear weapons against civilians if necessary.

As a socialist, Smith is apparently opposed to austerity and inequality. He wants to rewrite Clause IV of the Labour party constitution to include a commitment to “fight inequality” and has pledged £200bn to be invested in a “British New Deal” in addition to the £200bn to be spent on Trident renewal.

In his own words, Smith said “It’s not enough just to be anti-austerity, you have got to be pro-something and I am pro-prosperity”. What exactly this means in practice is unclear, but Smith gave some indication on Newsnight when he declared “The truth is, we must still support overall reductions in welfare spending because I think that is right.” Anti-austerity and pro-prosperity — but not for the ‘scroungers’. But the problem is that his pro-prosperity stance is based on a vague “£200bn new deal”.

Smith did not really explain how he will find the money to finance his £200bn so-called new deal. When asked the question, he and his supporters explained that it will be financed by more borrowing and that we have to invest in our economy in order to create growth and jobs. If the latter is right it is, however, completely ludicrous to believe that the British economy needs more debt in order to grow.

The national debt has spiralled out of control under the chaotic leadership of David Cameron and is now at a record £1.7tn and growing — by over £5,200 per second. Any Labour government will have to tackle the question of the national debt by introducing a fairer and better taxation system, but also by taxing companies that don’t pay or pay too little. Alongside a fairer taxation system, a Labour government will need to build an economy that can break with austerity policies. Unfortunately, none of this seems to be detailed in Smith’s “new deal plan”.

Smith isn’t the “radical socialist” that he claims to be. In reality, his brand of “socialism” was called until recently, social democracy — and it has failed. Even worse, all social democratic parties are in crisis across Europe and have already disappeared in some EU countries. On the other hand, Corbyn has built a 540,000-strong party around the values of democratic socialism. The Labour party has been transformed into a political movement. Not perfect, but open to participation from British society.

Behind the smoke and mirrors of Smith’s glossy PR, he is the candidate of the establishment. All Labour right wing MPs have endorsed this “radical” left winger for the leadership. Yvette Cooper, Tristram Hunt, Harriet Harman and Chuka Umunna have all come out in support of Smith.

Therefore, it has to be asked, if Smith represents the same kind of programme as Corbyn, then why is it that MPs who have explicitly renounced Corbyn’s programme feel so comfortable supporting him as the “unity candidate” for the leadership? Perhaps they are confident that if Smith were to win, all his vague anti-austerity promises would quickly take a backseat, with their “pro-prosperity”, pro-business policies firmly in the driving one.

What the establishment and the PLP want is to take their party back from the 540,000 members. It is now a fight for the heart and soul of the Labour party.