Nowhere Man: A portrait of ‘Blairite’ contempt
As I reflect on another chaotic week in the life of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership rival, the title of a 1965 Beatles hit springs to mind. In some ways they seem poetically prophetic when applied to the man from Pfizer, sadly they fall short in others. While he doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to; Owen Smith is not like you and me at all.
He may have spent most of his leadership campaign pretending to be Jeremy Corbyn, but he must be eternally grateful that he most certainly is not. Had the current incumbent launched himself on the sort of gaffe strewn tour of TV studios his challenger has, the media would have tore him to shreds.
Interestingly the Daily Mirror sees things very differently. They actually had the nerve to suggest that Owen Smith’s campaign was gathering pace. Of course the sight of morose teenagers holding up Smith placards, while clearly wishing they were anywhere else but at a Smith campaign event, packed with empty seats, tells a very different story. Alas reality is not up for discussion; it’s really all about the headline, which is all most people read.
If seeing almost 90% of Constituency Labour Party endorsements going to your rival, while failing to secure the support of a single major Trade Union, is gathering pace, then Corbyn must be home and dry already. Of course nothing should be taken for granted, but if the bookies and the polls are to be believed the Labour leader’s challenger has a mountain to climb if he is to be victorious in September.
All of this smoke though, compared to Owen Smith’s cynical attempts to cloak himself in left wing garb; which, it has to be said, is truly remarkable. The ‘Blairite’ wing have spent months claiming that left wing policies can’t win votes; so to now see them calling for a ‘workers revolution’ and the abolition of austerity is laughable.
The suggestion that the electorate has moved decisively to the right seems to have been abandoned. Presumably, they don’t think they can win that argument anymore. After all, how do you maintain the pretence that the public are anti-welfare and pro-austerity, when over half-a-million people have joined the Labour Party to support a man who is diametrically opposed to that vision? Now, it seems, the focus has shifted back to presentation and electability.
The ‘moderates’ have once again immersed themselves in the weird world of triangulation and focus groups, and appear to have found, much to their amazement, that socialism is actually testing quite well. Sadly though Corbyn’s askew tie does not. The answer therefore is to wheel out a sharp suited challenger, not afraid to roll up his sleeves, Cameron style, and pretend to be left-wing.
It would be amusing if it didn’t betray the true levels of contempt in which the right-wing of British politics holds the electorate. Do they really think we didn’t notice that Smith, now allegedly anti-cuts, failed to oppose the welfare bill? Do they really believe that the irony of a man bemoaning the horrors of the Iraq war, after actually supporting it and voting to bomb of Syria, would be lost on us? I actually think they do.
After all it was this wing of the party that abandoned the miners in the 80’s; yet they see no contradiction in dispatching their poster-boy to the scene of their crime, in order to plead for the support of those they left behind. No surprise that on arrival, Owen Smith was confronted by an angry miner, eager to point out his hypocrisy, and was forced to retreat to his car and leave town sharpish.
Clearly though this conversion to ‘radicalism’ has been hard on poor Owen. Obviously unsure of which words are permissible, alas there was no ear-piece connecting him to Mandelson this time, he could only prevaricate and splutter when asked about his socialism; eventually blurting out the word ‘Labourism’. The interviewer almost choked. What the hell is ‘Labourism’.
I get the feeling that to the people of Millbank (Labours Headquarters, and scene of the project that brought you Tony Blair) this is just a game. The object is simply to secure power; by any and all means necessary. When the polls shift one way – you move your policies to the right. When the wind starts blowing in another direction – you set sail for the left. In truth, should they actually win, they intend to do nothing radical with that power.
They are also profoundly undemocratic, tolerating absolutely no dissent. To them opponents are merely fodder to be smeared and undermined, and if the Party suffers in the cross-fire, well that’s just collateral damage. They talk of the left destroying Labour, while at the same time engaging in politics that risks handing another four years to Theresa May’s Tory Party. So what? If that happens, they can just blame it on the left.
Nothing is sacred, least of all the truth. One lie after another has been exposed in recent weeks. Angela Eagle’s much vaunted broken window, which later turned out to be routine vandalism of a stairwell, in a building inhabited by several other businesses. Threats against MP’s on social media, which they claimed were by supporters of Corbyn, have turned out to be the work of run-of-the-mill trolls, and not connected to Corbyn at all. To cap it all off, this week we’ve had the break-in that never was.
In all of these cases the accusations generate far more air-time and column inches than the truth does. The stench of lies lingers long after the mess has been cleared up. What is truly astonishing is the failure of journalists to shine a light on any of this. Surely attempts by elected officials to smear and lie about their opponents is a story worth pursuing. Is that not in the public interest?
The fact they don’t do that, and instead focus only on details that undermine Jeremy Corbyn, is telling. But the fact the so call ‘moderate wing’ of our Party engages in these same tactics is shameful. Sadly for him, Owen Smith has become the embodiment of all that.
When workers are struggling for decent pay and conditions, he offers to abolish zero-hours contracts, only to replace them with minimum hours contracts. “Could they be one-hour contracts?” asked an interviewer. “Yes” came the reply, “but the important thing is they’re not zero-hours contracts.” You see it’s really all in the presentation. That he thinks working people can be fooled by such bluff is contemptuous.
The Labour Party, indeed the British people, don’t need another snake oil salesman. Shiny smiles and smart suits don’t build houses, they don’t defend workers rights and they certainly don’t protect the NHS. This is not a battle over who can play best to the media and appeal to focus groups. It is instead a straight choice between a radical Labour Party that can transform the lives of millions, and a corporate Labour Party, who flatter to deceive, while striving to serve the interests of millionaires.
To achieve the former we need to win power. The way to achieve that is not to repeat the mistakes that led to Labour losing five million votes between 1997 and 2010. The public are tired of soundbite politicians who answer questions with false promises. They want a party that will use its power to change their lives. Owen Smith cannot deliver that and he doesn’t really want to.