Why I’m voting Owen Smith for Labour leader

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A year ago, I cast my vote in the Labour Party leadership election for Jeremy Corbyn.  I felt strongly at the time that this was the only vote that would wean Labour’s leadership off its taste for austerity economics, with all his opponents implicitly accepting the framing behind it.  I’d been appalled when Labour failed to oppose George Osborne’s welfare proposals, and when Labour’s right hailed this as a victory for adult politics.  My view then, as it is now, was that Labour needed to be a clear opponent of austerity politics, in the name of electability.  In both the short and long term, Labour needed to move on; only Corbyn’s campaign was even asking the right questions, let alone providing answers.

A year on, the development of economic policy, through John McDonnell’s New Economics Project, remains the lone success of Corbyn’s leadership.  I’ve already written of the need to preserve those gains, but also set out clearly my view that Corbyn must go, for the sake of the left.

As Labour gears up for its election, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the left view of this election – and how, by presenting it as a coup by out-of-touch Parliamentarians, that view diminishes its fundamental importance.  Corbyn’s supporters have said repeatedly that it is the members that matter; but, as Neil Kinnock pointed out in what was reported to have been a barnstorming speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party, the Party was founded to give a Parliamentary voice to the Labour movement; and a Labour leader who cannot command the support of more than a quarter of his Parliamentary colleagues, or is faced with mass resignations from his Shadow Cabinet, has a serious problem.  The fact is that this is a battle between two fundamentally different conceptions of what the Labour Party is for – whether it should be a party based around achieving a Parliamentary majority to deliver a programme, or whether it should be a member-led campaigning organisation in which the Parliamentary party is mandated to implement majority decisions – and to call the current crisis a “coup” is wholly to understate the seriousness of what is at stake.

My own position is clear – the situation we face is far too important for gesture politics and we have to get a serious, anti-austerity Labour party in office that looks beyond its own membership to the people who need Labour and who Labour needs to speak for – the poorest, the most vulnerable in society, those facing falling real wages, falling benefits, insecurity in the workplace; people who have walked away from Labour in the last decade and who we are sometimes guilty of having forgotten – and who are likely to be in the front line, yet again, when the economic effects of Brexit begin to bite.  I want a Labour Party that is prepared to put those people first in Government, not one passing resolutions and offering gestures of solitdarity in the purity of opposition.  I also want a Labour Party that is credible, intellectually serious and willing to listen – and for all those reasons, as I blogged a while ago, Corbyn must go.

So Labour needs a leader who will project a clearly anti-austerity position; who is engaged in the wider world outside the Leader’s office and understands the issues Labour faces; and who is willing and able to communicate.  Of Corbyn’s declared opponents, it seems clear to me that Owen Smith fits the bill.  He’s very much on the centre-left of the Party; it’s notable that after years of prevarication by his predecessors, as Work and Pensions Shadow he’s really taken the fight to the Tories (compare Rachel Reeves’ infamous comment that Labour would be “tougher on welfare than the Tories”). He has condemned going to war in Iraq.   During the EU referendum campaign, I heard him share a platform with Jeremy Corbyn at a rally in Cardiff; his passion but also his sense of history and context put a lacklustre and disengaged Corbyn in the shade.  As someone who has worked in the media, he’s unlikely to mistake turning up at  rallies for effective leadership.

Most of all, as MP for Pontypridd he is best placed to understand some of the biggest issues facing the Party.  Not just because he’s seen Welsh Labour deliver policies in Government that are far more radical than those embraced by pre-Corbyn Labour in Westminster, but because he represents one of the most deprived areas in Europe.  He represents a community that was eviscerated by Thatcher in the 1980s; where people voted against EU membership despite the fact that they benefit enormously from it; where people have walked away from Labour and are being seduced by UKIP.  At a recent Constituency GC meeting in my less deprived area of Cardiff, I heard a pro-Corbyn speaker describe people in the “Valleys” as “bigoted and uneducated”.  Leaving aside the offence caused to my  partner from the Rhondda, with a BSc, MSC, MBA and thirty years of campaigning Labour membership, that’s the kind of mentality Labour just can’t afford.  Labour should be about listening, understanding, empowering and empathising; all too often the Corbynista mindset derives from an ideological sense of entitlement that is a precise mirror-image of the Bullingdon Tories.  Those “bigoted and uneducated” people are the people who need Labour, and whom Labour needs and and has to win back.

This is not a coup; it’s a fundamental battle about what kind of a party Labour is – a party of Government or protest, a party that is open and welcoming or closed, ideological and democratic centralist; a party that speaks for the millions who need an alternative to austerity in Government, or for the handful who are more interested in passing resolutions; a party that is confident or paranoid.  And I believe that Owen Smith is the candidate who is best placed to ensure that Labour remains true to its founding purpose, of working through Parliament to govern in the interests of the many.

 

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11 thoughts on “Why I’m voting Owen Smith for Labour leader

  1. That is bery iinformative and interesting. I will definitely vote for Owen Smith. I had no intention of voting for Corbyn anyway, and do not like Anbela Eagle, so it is a no brainer

  2. Smith would get my vote.

    The party must be properly led, both in parliament and beyond. Corbyn’s unsuitability has been laid bare and we cannot go on with a dysfunctional PLP who largely don’t trust, nor have any confidence in him.

  3. Owen Smith just announced that “austerity is right”. if you want anti austerity politics, he’s clearly not the right candidate.

  4. “The Labour Party has to be a Party that is about investment not cuts. We have to be anti-austerity and pro prosperity.”

    Smith’s position seems completely clear cut to me.

  5. Pingback: Fantastic Article. Not necessarily my voting preference, but a really great analysis of the Corbyn project. – Thoughts and Hair

  6. If Owen Smith had an ounce of honesty, actually believed what he said and could show any sort of commitment to the meaningless slogans he comes out with I might think of voting for him. He comes across as smarmy, insincere and unelectable, god help the PLP if this is the best they can throw at Corbyn.

  7. Thank you for your post, which is coherent and devoid of the rancour and abuse in place of analysis that too often passes for debate. I also voted for Corbyn, but I like to think that I learn from my mistakes. My only question is whether to abstain or vote for Smith. I have to profess at this stage that I am one of the “bigoted and uneducated” masses so despised by elements of your constituency membership. Somehow I managed to get an education, benefited from an NHS free at the point of delivery (mostly), who was brought up in a council house, having spent my first years in a damp-ridden private rented room. Perhaps my doubtless false consciousness ridden lumpen mind can’t grasp the complexities of the situation, but I think that it may have had something to do with Labour in power, something that I am certain that Corbyn cannot deliver, I also have very real doubts about Smith, in this regard, but not with the level of certainty that I have in regard to Corby . The purity of opposition will achieve nothing more than a talking shop, and a dwindling one, in electoral terms, at that. I write as a long-standing member of the party horrified by its rightward drift, increasingly polluted by neo-liberal values. This had to stop, and my vote for Corbyn reflected this, however, what I didn’t vote for was a switch from Islington spin to Islington Bullingdon which chooses to let that with which it does not agree with to wither on the vine by exercising a lofty disengaged majesty (Europe) or to allow those who do not agree with the uber thought to be isolated, vilified and ultimately driven out of the party.

  8. Well thought out piece. And clearly Owen Smith is not ‘ unelectable’ as one of the respondents above says he was elected as a Labour MP, for goodness sake,by the people who matter, the electorate. I read Lilian Greenwood’s letter to her CLP which shows how difficult JC has been to work for and how inept he has been as Leader. I even wonder if it was deliberate on his part. I am totally disillusioned with everything going on in the Labour Party but would certainly not vote for Corbyn.

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