Monday, 22 August 2016


I just voted for Owen Smith in the Labour leadership election and feel like I may as well blog about what might seem like a mildly controversial choice given that I have blogged about my completely uncontroversial previous choices to vote for Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn last year and to remain in the EU this year.

The election is a pretty weird one, and I'll be absolutely frank that I consider my vote a 'protest' against Jeremy Corbyn rather than a resounding declaration of love for Owen Smith. This is not to say that I think Owen Smith would do a terrible job, but a) I think he has zero chance of winning and b) if he did I think he would probably be a better leader of the Labour Party by simple dint of not being Jeremy Corbyn and c) it seems to me that what some might call the personality cult around Corbyn and others might call outrage that anybody would challenge a popular mandate that means that the attacks on Smith's character are so inevitable as to be a bit difficult for me to really engage with. Is he a bit dodgy? I mean maybe, it's incredibly difficult to really say (the classic Corbyn supporter thing was when a bunch of them – and I'm just talking about 'some guys on social media' – turned on Billy Bragg as an out-of-touch champagne socialist when the Times reported that he'd made some disparaging remarks about Corbyn, then decided he wasn't when it turned out they'd been misreported) I don't think Smith wants to flog off the NHS any more than Corbyn wants to sell us out to Russia.

So I voted for Corbyn last year and still don't really have any regrets: Labour was in a bit of a quagmire and needed shaking up. Obviously it's a disaster now, but I can't help but feel this is a reckoning that needed to happen. I think Ed Miliband was far more leftwing than people give him credit for, but tonally he aimed everything at the 'squeezed middle'; I think what Corbyn's election has essentially done is remind Labour that it could really do with appealing to the actively disenfranchised too. I liked the fact he seemed to have a lot of policy ideas. He wasn't a great PMQs performer, but he made a good contrast with Cameron presentationally.

The main reason I went off Corbyn is that I am a believer in Ockham's Razor (and a disbeliever in elaborate conspiracy theories). MP after MP who resigned from his cabinet cited basic competence as their problem, issues of communication, clarity, ability to build and work as a team. Everything I've seen of his leadership would suggest this is probably true, and that he is an absolute nightmare as a boss (a boss of mine at Metro had an amazing set of principles that failed to have any bearing at all on the fact he was a bit awful). Maybe my perception of this is all filtered through a biased mainstream media lens etc etc. But I think it's fairly obvious that Corbyn is not classically 'brilliant' as a thinker or leader. His policies – which seemed to dry up after the election, until he was faced with another election, and started announcing some of the same policies again – are not exactly hard left. He is anti-Trident and takes a dim view of any form of military intervention whatsoever. That's fairly controversial, but that's pretty much all that's SERIOUSLY controversial. Accepting there are a small number of actual right wingers' in Labour, I don't think his MPs turned against him because they think he's too left wing. I think they did because he's just not very good at the things they say he's not very good at. I don't think he should be allowed a pass on grounds that he has a strong moral compass, or that he believes what I believe in. I think he should be good at his job, because being good at his job will make this country a better place. He simply hasn't grown into it. I don't think. Maybe I have been 'got' by the media.

A few other things that put me off

1. The EU campaign – he wasn't very good, but I think he did try in his own way. But I just thought there was a troubling lack of empathy – or pretence at empathy – at the devastation the majority of Labour voters felt at the result.

2. The Thanet by-election. I was really disturbed by the way he started throwing Labour's win in a small parish election with voter numbers in the triple figures as evidence of media bias and his own success. It just seems either deluded or – more likely – manipulative in a way I hand't really realised he was, a hunk of red meat to stoke up his supporters.

3. Pharma research. His announcement that medical research shouldn't be farmed out to private companies just seemed like a piece of game playing aimed at Smith, of a sort I thought Corbyn might be above. It's difficult to talk about the culture of anger etc around Corbyn, but I think he stokes it up in a way that he infers he does not.

4. The Corbyn emojis pushed me over the edge a bit, I don't really think we should have emojis of our politicians.

Anyway, this isn't an appeal to anybody to change their mind as I don't think it'll matter. Ultimately what will matter is Labour getting over itself and trying to pull together after Corbyn wins with a large majority. I think it will be very difficult if he makes no effort to be better at the things he has thus far appeared to not be very good at, but I live in hope that he starts grooming somebody more competent on the left like Clive Lewis as a successor.

In any case, if you've been arsed to read this far and haven't read this excellent article by his supporter Owen Jones about his misgivings then read it and we'll call it a day yeah.