It hurts just a little to say it, but Labour could probably learn a thing or two from the Tories. Rather than launching into the second long-term leadership battle in as many years, Theresa May took charge of the country as Prime Minister last week just a matter of weeks after the starting gun was fired on the Tory contest.
But in saying that, Labour’s leadership battle is exactly that – a fight, potentially to the death, over what the party stands for and how it should go about achieving it. It’s (barely) survived since Jeremy Corbyn took office as the Leader of Her Majesty’s opposition last September, and it’s hard to see how it will make it through the next two months without inflicting further damage on itself.
The truth is though, between the two remaining candidates: Corbyn himself and Owen Smith, that only one can hope to unite the party and provide a true and effective opposition – and it’s the man from Wales.
Wales has always played a key role in the Labour Party, and it’s perhaps one of the most important Welsh politicians of all-time, Aneurin Bevan, that the party owes much of its’ modern principles to. He was the Health Secretary that ushered in the NHS, but also the era of a party that was steadfastly committed to inequality. He was so influential that even modern Conservatives at the height of their austerity obsession wouldn’t dare go against the values Bevin set forth over 60 years later. Certainly Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t either.
And the reason for this relevance is that Owen Smith classes himself as a Bevanite politician. There’s no room for modern comparisons with Blair or Brown – but a look back to the very formation of Labour values. Indeed, a look at Smith’s voting record as an MP will show you that on everything you could imagine – from taxes, welfare, health, education, you name it – Smith places himself solidly in line with what you’d expect a left wing MP to do.
Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith share many of the same values, and it’s almost true that they do have a significant overlap in terms of policy. It’s almost as though they’re in the same party.
What sets the two apart, though, is that Smith has already in the brief phase in the limelight proven himself to be a stronger and more effective performer than Jeremy Corbyn and one that will command the support of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn’s principles cannot be doubted and they are rooted in good intentions, but his conviction and execution of those principles has been so weak and haphazard that he is doing a disservice to his party, the country and himself.
There has been vanishingly little from Labour in terms of viable policy alternatives to the Conservative Government during Corbyn’s tenure, which is a shambles considering that the Tories have overseen hysterical austerity, slashing of the health service and educational reform gone hideously wrong.
Owen Smith on the other hand in his short 10-day stint as leadership candidate has unveiled policies to raise the top rate of tax, create a £200 billion investment bank to develop health, education & infrastructure, reintroduce wage councils for parties to come to a fair wage for employees, as well as stating his commitment to revamping the infamous Clause IV of Labour’s constitution to reaffirm the party’s commitment to reducing inequality.
Owen Smith is already a more powerful opposition figure to Theresa May and her new administration, and one with solid left-wing credentials, so it makes little sense that honest-hearted Labour people would oppose him.
There’s no doubt that Smith has a lot of work to do if he’s to succeed in toppling Corbyn. 69% of Labour voters said in a YouGov poll at the weekend that they didn’t know very much about him and when it came to a head-to-head between himself and Jeremy Corbyn the incumbent was ahead by 56-34%.
However, we should know now more than ever in British politics that two months is a long time for views to shift and for the political tables to turn completely. Who would have predicted in April 2015 that the Tories would win a majority, the hardy left-winger from Islington would win control of the Labour party before Britain left the EU the following Spring?
Owen Smith will enjoy the strong backing of the party’s elected officials and with that he can hope to at least close the gap with Corbyn between now and the special conference in September where the fate of the Labour party will be announced.
If Corbyn wins, there will be deeply distraught members of the party who will fear that in any hope of an alternative to the Tories being elected in the near future that leaving Labour will be the only option.
But if Smith wins, Labour can begin rebuilding its’ tarnished credibility voter by voter, community by community. Smith is by no means perfect, and in Theresa May he would have a worth adversary across the dispatch box who outmatches him in experience. A Smith leadership may not be enough to take back Downing Street in 2020 – but Labour have no chance otherwise.
No matter your politics, the Government needs to have a strong and capable opposition – and for those on the left of the political spectrum Owen Smith is the only person capable of providing the leadership necessary to provide that. Without a Smith victory in September, Labour’s past, present and future are all in serious risk.