Martyn Richard Jones
Mountain View, Friday 9th September 2016
Although I am not a Labour voter, I, like many people across the UK, have been following the Labour Party leadership debates, which have seen the incumbent Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP Owen Smith battling it out in public. And although it’s not up there with Itchy and Scratchy, it still provides some surprisingly irritating entertainment interspersed with facts, fiction, Pontypandy bitchiness and Islington exasperation.
Jeremy Corbyn comes across as someone who is really trying to have a dialogue with the audience and with the opposing candidate. He speaks to his strengths and values, and as a result is seen as much more authentic and positive. Quite possibly this is the main reason why so many people believe that he is a decent choice for Labour leader and PM.
Owen Smith comes across as a person angling for likes on social networks and media forums by shooting off copy-cat platitudes, purloined clichés and one-liner put-downs. His campaign image is the embodiment of the famous Harpo Marx quote “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
If Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors had their way, the entire Labour Party leadership challenge would be run as a beauty pageant. But they are making a dire mistake, one that could well come back to haunt them. Because if you actually succeed in turning the clash into a question of personalities rather than issues, you’d better make damn sure that you have a candidate with a personality.
But, chwarae teg (play fair), Owen doesn’t really have his own policies, isn’t a fresh item on the menu and can only rely on the NEC up to a point. So it’s actually common sense that dictates that Team Anyone-But-Corbyn would want to make it all about personalities.
But that tack will also come unstuck at some point, because if Jeremy is portrayed as the kale and hummus munching hippy from Islington, it’s an image that still pales in comparison with Owen’s gutsy caricature of political tofu.
So, what Team Owen Smith are doing now, is frantically searching for ways to sell their brand of soya curd without resorting to the use of personality or issues. So they’ve gone back to square one, and again make this about personalities. But, unsurprisingly, this time it’s only about the personality of Jeremy Corbyn.
However, in order for this alternative universe of Anyone-But-Corbyn to actually be convincing, we have to pretend that Corbyn is the only one in the leadership race, that the other candidate doesn’t exist, doesn’t even play a role, and therefore we don’t need to ask questions about who they are and what they stand for.
But this is also problematic, and nowhere more clearly so than in the much publicised and televised Labour Party leadership debates. Because the moderators of the debates have other ideas, they cannot be seen to show bias, and in particular when it comes to probing questions from the public and answers to those questions from the candidates, what’s sauce for the Islington goose is sauce for the Pontypridd gander.
So, when this fails, as it has done every time it has been tried, Team Owen Smith drag out a handful of reactionary and half-baked ‘policies’. Like the policy of having a second EU referendum, the policy of sitting around the table with ISIS or the policy of slamming Theresa May back on her heels.
Let’s just explore one of those policies in more depth. Owen wants a second EU referendum. What he doesn’t get is that this attitude alienates people and when it isn’t actually necessary to breach the subject. I voted remain, if he did the same that’s enough for now. The Brexit ball is in Theresa May’s court. The job of the opposition is to hold the government’s feet to the fire, and especially with Brexit.
However, the fact that he keeps banging on about a second referendum shows a remarkable lack of political sense and sensibility.
What is happening is that Owen Smith is offering to give the nation a second EU referendum in the same way that he offered Jeremy Corbyn the non-existent role of President of the Labour Party – if only he would stand aside.
The 2nd EU referendum offer is in the same vein as Owen’s enthusiastic willingness to give Scotland a second independence referendum – not actually in the gift of the leader of HM’s most loyal opposition. But, nonetheless a clumsy and naïve move that probably irritated his north of the border fan-club of one, the Scottish Labour Party leader, Kezia Dugdale, who is adamantly opposed to a second independence referendum.
It’s in the same vein as Owen accusing Corbyn of the alleged rise of misogyny and abuse in the Labour Party. The same Owen who managed to use Jeremy’s name and the term “some lunatic” in the same sentence; the same Owen who attacked Theresa May with rather violent language; and, the same Owen who complained that the only reason Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood was invited to participate in BBC Question Time, was because of her gender.
It’s in the same vein as Owen saying he wants a united Labour Party more than anything else, but then refusing to contemplate entering into the Shadow cabinet with Corbyn still as leader. Declining to work with the leader of the opposition is not about service to party, constituency and country, it’s the result of a toxic melange of ambition, ego and grievance.
Which is actually the crux of my point. Which is to amply demonstrate that Team Owen Smith will say anything that they believe it takes, no matter how foolish, ill-advised and reactionary others see it as, and in so doing will fail.
So, all in all, desperate times for Jeremy’s competition and detractors, and their rather anaemic Plan B strategy of ‘make it up as you go along’. It makes me wonder how on earth his team can still keep hold on to any kind of support. And, this is the candidate with the backing of 170 fellow MPs.
You really have to wonder.
Many thanks for reading.
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