Labour’s poll ratings are awful. The Tories currently have an 11 point lead in the polls and a significant number of 2015 Labour voters prefer Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn. Labour are heading for a major election defeat. Some of Corbyn’s supporters are relaxed about this, but I cannot see how any of the goals of the left are served by giving the Tories a huge majority in parliament. The party membership is growing, but we must not confuse a large party with wide electoral support. We should look at the council elections from earlier this year, where Labour failed to make substantial gains. At this point in the electoral cycle, Ed Miliband was way ahead of the Tories and he still went on to lose.
Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader, is ultimately responsible for the poor state of the party. However, I doubt that Owen Smith, the current challenger for Labour leader, would do any better because Labour’s problems go beyond who is leader and have causes that stretch back decades (this has been the point of my recent posts). Party members are currently faced with the choice between two leaders, both of whom would be defeated in the next general election.
Just because Labour cannot win the next election, does not mean the choice of leader is insignificant. Party members need to ask themselves what do we want from a leader who is bound to fail? Do we want someone who can build a broader social movement? Do we want someone who can make Labour stronger in the long term? Do we want someone who can unite the party?
The strongest case for Smith is that he could be a stepping stone towards electability. A vote for Smith is a vote to move away from the disastrous present and towards a better future. My main concern with Smith is that this more electable Labour Party that he would lead us towards is likely to be vehemently an anti-immigration and anti-benefits. The best case scenario for what follows Smith is a step back to the Miliband/Brown vision of social democracy that has been rejected twice by the voters.
If there is one political lesson of 2016 it is that lots of people are fed up with the status quo. We see that in Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. Labour cannot win by offering more of the same. Corbyn is an alternative to the status quo, a break with the neoliberalism that as been the political consensus for the past 30 years. The Labour Party needs to offer something different from reheated free market economics with some social liberalism if it is to win again. Corbyn himself is different to most politicians and this inspires people. Smith is anything but inspiring.
There is much to dislike about Corbyn. He is indifferent to the bullying from some of his supporters. Over the last 30 years he has aligned himself with every anti-western cause. This includes calling Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” and appearing on the Iranian government’s propaganda channel Press TV, which has been banned by Ofcom and regular hosts anti-semites. I do not want a Labour Party leader with links to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. I do not want a Labour leader who at best turns a blind eye to the anti-semitism, homophobia and sexism of these groups.
With Smith in charge, Labour would escape the problems of having a serial rebel as leader. The party would not have a leader who has been linked to some awful organisations and who mistrusts the media to the point where he cannot get his message out. Labour would become a more efficiently run operation with a clear communication strategy under Smith.
What would the message behind Smith’s well-run communication strategy be? That is anything but clear. I do not think that he has a concrete plan to tackle the historic problems that have created Labour’s dismal present. Neither does Corbyn, but he does at least inspire some people. I do not think Smith would be any better at inspiring people to vote Labour. Smith can put out as many well-phrased press releases as he likes, but he needs to address the fundamental issue that people want something different from politicians.
There has to be acknowledgement of the fact that Corbyn has become very popular and Labour needs to learn from how he has inspired so many people alienated from politics. Corbyn has been able to cut through people’s cynicism with politics. Inspiring voters and offering hope is the only way that Labour can win a general election and exploiting the success that Corbyn has had needs to be a part of Labour strategy. A winning strategy may not inspire people in the exact way that Corbyn has, but Labour cannot afford to dismiss the fact that a throwback to the 1980s has become more popular than seasoned politicians who are supposed to be experts in winning public support.
Smith does not inspire any wing of the party; very few of the big beasts on the right of the party publicly support him. He is unlikely to grow the electoral support of the party in places where Labour is not already strong. If the party is getting rid of Corbyn then it must be to appoint a leader who can appeal to the voters Labour need to win over. This candidate is not Owen Smith. I am sure that he will be a competent Labour leader if he wins, but I do not see him winning over voters whom Ed Miliband did not convince.
There are many things to dislike about both candidates, and not a lot to inspire anyone who wants a Labour government anytime soon. Corbyn’s record of supporting unpleasant groups and his inability to tackle the abuse from some of his supports is a major strike against him. I am also frightened that the Labour Party will become rabidly anti-benefits and anti-immigration in order to become “electable” in the future. Smith’s rhetoric on immigration has only encouraged this fear. This is why I cannot support him for Labour leader.
This leaves me with no opinion other than to return a spoiled ballot paper as a gesture of protest against both candidates. This is not a decision I make lightly or one I am proud of. If there is one thing that this leadership contest has shown it is that Labour needs to change soon or face destruction.