Why I'm backing Owen Smith over Jeremy Corbyn

25 Aug 2016

 

As a long-standing Labour member, the past few months have been utterly soul-crushing for me. The party has descended into factional in-fighting, the likes of which have not been seen since Labour’s wilderness years in the 1980s. A daily browse through any social media platform will see discussions of Labour descend into virulent anti-Semitic abuse, death threats and pointless one-sentence arguments. To any outsider, it looks almost pathetic; to any rational insider, it’s looking as if Labour is slowly sliding into un-electability once more.

 

Personally, I cannot see Labour ever recovering from this state with Corbyn at the helm. Firstly, much of the vicious abuse comes from Momentum activists and Corbyn supporters. So convinced are they in their moral absolution, they often resort to physical violence – such as lobbing bricks through former leader challenger Angela Eagle’s office window – on top of using hate speech online. Indeed, when Sadiq Khan came out in support of Owen Smith, a great many tweets directly referenced his Muslim faith as a way to rubbish him. On the other hand, many accused him of being in services of ‘Zionism’, an often misattributed buzzword that is deployed by many on the hard-left to discredit those with whom they disagree.

 

Recently, 92% of the Jewish Labour Movement members voted in favour of supporting Owen Smith, with many feeling their safety was threatened by Corbyn’s Labour Party. It is not difficult to see why so many of Labour’s Jewish supporters feel alienated within their own party: the recently published Chakrabarti Inquiry made it all too clear how prevalent Labour’s anti-Semitism problem really is, and, aside from the Inquiry itself, Corbyn has done little to address this. The sheer amount of vitriol espoused by Corbyn supporters is not only damaging Labour’s electability, but making the party itself an incredibly toxic place.

 

Too frequently have I seen Owen Smith supporters shut down with a tirade of hate speech merely for criticising Corbyn. ‘Blairite’ has become the key term used by trolls to ensure debate is stifled, as well as calls for people to join the Tories if they refuse to back the leader. Even Ed Miliband, Sadiq Khan, and many of the 80% of MPs who have opposed Corbyn are being told that they would be better off ‘joining the Tories’.  

 

I would say that Corbyn’s long tenure as a backbencher involved him rebelling against the party line on a fairly frequent basis, making it even harder to fathom why, suddenly, it is wrong to not back the man who made a career out of being a rebel, but I digress.

 

Aside from the abuse, polls also show that Corbyn would fail dismally in an election. He is polling at an incredibly low rate for an opposition leader, and it is clear that if a snap election were to occur, the Conservative Party would easily secure yet another term in power. Indeed, as Sadiq Khan accurately emphasised: ‘Jeremy’s personal ratings are the worst of any opposition leader on record.’

 

Considering the fact that the Tories were, over the past few months, dogged by infighting over the E.U. referendum and faced a bitter loss in the London mayoral election, it would be relatively easy for an opposition leader to drum up more support. But this is not the case: in spite of the Conservatives often being in turmoil, Corbyn constantly retains low support. This is no longer a simple matter of losing the support of his own party, as he is currently also losing support amongst the general public.

 

I have heard all too often that Jeremy represents True Labour values as an ardent socialist. I disagree – real change can only be delivered with election victories. It is well and good claiming to hold the principled position, but one can never actually enact those principles if one is perpetually in opposition. The unflinching position of Corbyn and his supporters means that under his tenure, I am unable to conceive Labour winning an election. Importantly, this would mean that a greater number of people will suffer under Tory rule, while Labour drifts further and further away from power.

 

We need a party that embraces pragmatism over resolute idealism, one that refuses to tolerate hollow contempt, and one that supports debate among all of its members. Labour is a broad church, but currently the only ideology that seems to be permitted is Corbynism. Anyone else is silenced – the NEC elections reflect this, and so does Corbyn’s current shadow cabinet, since he has surrounded himself with people of a similar socio-political mind-set – while those who disagreed were culled, like Hilary Benn, or resigned.

 

This is why I am backing Owen Smith. I don’t see him just as the ‘lesser of two evils’ candidate, but one who would successfully drag Labour back into the lofty realms of electability. At the risks of remaining perpetually in opposition – I am reminded of a simple quote from Clement Attlee: “you will be judged by what you succeed at, gentlemen, not by what you attempt.” For Labour to succeed, it needs a candidate who can appeal to the electorate and who isn’t firmly stranded in their own dogma.

 

The Labour Party is at risk of merely becoming the Momentum Party. If Labour truly wishes to become electable, it requires a change of leader – one who can appeal to the public, and who can actually enact change. With Corbyn, I only see a grim reflection of Labour’s long wilderness years of the 1980s – and this frightens me, because that would mean that we are complicit in increasing the number of working people suffering under Conservative rule.

 

Read more articles by this commentator, or follow @RoryClaydon

 

 

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