“Definitely…I’m unashamedly a socialist. I’m unashamedly an idealist.” – Owen Smith, summer of 2016
If Labour is indeed unable to pull itself out of its current woes and what we are witnessing now are its death throes, many historians will look back with confusion on why the Labour right chose as its potential saviour a little known Welsh former lobbyist who decided to try and run to the left of Jeremy Corbyn. Looked at from where we are now, less than two weeks from the result, it feels like a massive, epoch defining error.
Given the attempt to get rid of Corbyn in the first place was always about more than just lack of competence, the Labour plotters should have had the strength of their convictions and really gone for it. Run a Blairite, what the hell – or at the very least, someone who represented an ideological change from Corbyn. I know, I know, the PLP had an answer for that: we tried all that last time and look where it got us. Yet at the same time it’s worth remembering that a major part of their plan involved having people who either had left the Labour party in recent years, or had never been Labour members but might be sufficiently politically homeless and anti-Corbyn enough stumping up £25 to try and vote Mr Islington out.
Did it never occur to them that trying to summon forth an army of moderates using an unknown socialist was a strange thing to do? Speaking as someone who fits into the target audience here: had someone like Dan Jarvis been running, I would have felt obliged to stump up £25 myself. But why would I want to wade in to try and elect Owen Smith? On the notion that he doesn’t really believe all the leftie drivel he’s been peddling and as someone who actually doesn’t plan to overthrow the rules of Westminster democracy, will gleefully step aside in a year or so to allow someone better to fill his shoes? Hardly inspiring stuff.
It is a massively missed opportunity, one that will almost certainly be long rued. At least if someone who represented their actual ideal Labour leader had run, the bulk of the PLP could at least console themselves with the notion that they had lost honourably. Also, the future could have been thought about with more clarity. As it is, the plan after Corbyn inevitably wins on the 24th seems to be coalescing around simply giving Corbyn a little more rope and then challenging him again in 2017. What do they think will be different next time? And will it involved the same “socialism with competence” shtick that failed so spectacularly this time round?
The really bizarre thing about this whole debacle is that the reason they don’t just split now is because they see the Labour brand as so invaluable. Yet this leadership contest has been nothing but incredibly damaging to the brand – and another one in 2017 will inflict even more injury. Talk about destroying a village to save it.