It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have decided to vote for Owen Smith in the upcoming Labour party leadership elections. Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s incredible mandate and message of genuine hope which has engaged so many otherwise apathetic and disenfranchised voters, it has become increasingly clear to me that he lacks the broader appeal necessary to contend for a general election victory.
Like many other young, left-of-centre voters, I voted for Corbyn in September 2015 with enthusiasm and optimism. It was to be a new era of Labour politics – a straight talking, honest politics. And since then, I have passionately defended this vision against his detractors. I rejected the pragmatism over principle paradigm, as I believed a united party under Corbyn’s leadership could achieve both. But it is time for us all to accept that we are running out of excuses.
No Corbyn supporter should be happy about this. I most certainly am not. It is undeniable that he has been the victim of a sustained and unprecedented campaign of misrepresentation and personal attacks by every major British media outlet. It is also undeniable that he has been undermined by the PLP at almost every conceivable opportunity from day one. For sure, it was never going to be easy for Corbyn.
However, as rational voters who take pride in our critical faculties, we must also concede that the incumbent leader has largely proven to be incompetent at dealing with the media, at uniting his party’s dissenters, and at challenging the Tory leadership despite many opportunities. He picked the wrong battles to fight, and missed key opportunities to challenge the Tory leadership. At the Labour Party Conference shortly after his leadership victory, Corbyn said that “leadership is listening”. Though he was derided for saying it at the time, he was absolutely correct. So why hasn’t he listened? Surely he was told that continuing to talk about the Falklands was a mistake? Mustn’t someone have mentioned that it was an inopportune time to bring up Irish reunification? Or, most relevant of all, whilst we both harbour hopes of nuclear disarmament, surely one or more of his shadow cabinet will have pointed out to Corbyn that the British people overwhelmingly supported Trident’s renewal?
One of the major issues of his leadership has been a stubborn refusal to abandon idealistic yet demonstrably unpopular positions. This strategy was never going to win him votes outside of the 250,000 labour members who make up his mandate. In a country with an electorate of over 45 million, the leader of the opposition must choose their battles tactfully. Corbyn has shown no such inclination. In the meantime, there has been a glaring absence of clear policy positions on issues that do matter, short of opposing austerity. I cheered the creation of his economic advisory committee, but have heard nothing from them since – other than committee member David Blanchflower criticizing Labour’s economic policies. The fact that some of his closest allies have resigned from his shadow cabinet is quite telling. Not only did he fail to unite the party’s factions, he also couldn’t maintain the loyalty of many of his supporters, including Owen Smith.
This brings us to the upcoming leadership bout. After an unsuccessful coup – which I condemn in the strongest possible terms – by the PLP, orchestrated by the Blairite fossils of a bygone era, a leadership election has been called. It could have been done without a coup, but its masterminds were well aware of Corbyn’s continued popularity amongst the unions and membership and knew it would be an uphill struggle to defeat him on democratic terms. And if it’s any consolation to Corbynites reading this who consider me a traitor: he will still in all likelihood come out victorious once again.
But if we wish to see a Labour party in government come 2020 (or possibly earlier), we need to come to terms with the fact that Corbyn is simply unfit – and by some accounts unwilling – to lead us there. Angela Eagle was never going to be a satisfactory alternative, but Smith appears to have both the support of the PLP and the leftist vision Corbyn supporters can rally behind. Most importantly, he appears capable of rejecting the principle or pragmatism dichotomy and doing what it takes to get a principled Labour party into power.
Smith is, by all accounts, a savvy and hard working politician with policy proposals that largely resemble Corbyn’s, the main difference being that they are visible and well articulated. To those who wish to paint him as a blairite, corporate shill, they need look no further than his voting record to see how unfair this characterisation is. I sincerely thank Corbyn for all he has done for the party, and all he has tried to do. Thanks to him far left ideals are once more at the forefront of Labour policy. But if we truly wish to see anything remotely resembling his vision in action, then we shouldn’t mind who ultimately implements it. Owen Smith has a far superior chance of doing so, which is why he will have my vote come election time.