Labour Leadership Election 2016: Pro Owen Smith

August 24, 2016
I voted for Owen Smith for Labour leader today and if you are eligible to vote, I encourage you to do so as well.
The current situation is pretty damn grim and likely to get grimmer both for Labour and for the UK. We need to at least staunch our wounds to survive. Corbyn is clearly not the person who can even try to do that.
Corbyn is successful in getting strong support from a large group of left leaning folks (from moderate to extreme left). (I count myself as pretty far left, but also as a devotee of harm minimisation over purity in political action.) This translates into strong support from general party members and many left leaning folks joining. Some of his policies are generally correct but often suffer from 1) lack of specificity (cf his anti-austerity measues), 2) poor prioritisation (cf. Trident), or 3) poor messaging (cf. Brexit, with the generous assumption he was actually pro-Remain) and sometimes all three. This makes him a terrible standard bearer for these policies.
Corbyn clearly cannot work effectively with the PLP or members of the political elites (including policy wonks). The mass resignation of the Shadow cabinet including former supporters is strong evidence thereof and there are increasing numbers of specific stories where incompetence or misprioritisation screw things up. As a fringe party member for decades, he just hasn’t been able to transcend that both in the perception of others and, as far as I can tell, his own thinking.
Corbyn faces a hugely hostile press. The coverage of him is decidedly unfair, but absent a plan to turn that around or mitigate it, it doesn’t matter that it’s unfair, merely that it exists. Plus, I would go so far to say that he exacerbates the problem. Stuff like not timing press releases correctly make things worse.
Corbyn is not seen as PM material by large swaths of the electorate. Putting aside the question of whether Labour can win the next general election (it’s going to be tough no matter what), voters often vote against MP candidates when they dislike the Leader, because they understand (correctly) that the way to vote for a PM is to vote for that candidate’s local MP. (This can be overridden, of course, by local excellence, but we’re talking about overall effects.) Corbyn’s multiple layers of general unpopularity will hurt all Labour’s races. The size of a loss matters.
Thus far, this has been all “vote against Corbyn” instead of “vote against Smith”. And I think there’s a very strong case to be made on that basis. I’m not quite “anyone but Corbyn” but it’s pretty close. Corbyn is close to being a Trump like figure for Labour: An outsider, outlier candidate who’s pretty toxic with the populace and terrible at conventional politics but caught the imagination of a fairly cohesive group with outlier views. This is a recipe for destruction.
Smith seems about as left a conventional politician we are likely to get with good relations throughout the political elite. He has been a party loyalist while trying to move the party left (which leads to some party line votes people take as evidence of his “blariteness”). Thus, I think he will play better with the press and the general populace and do better in getting the MPs together to fight in the next election (and to be a strong opposition now).

Defeating Corbyn is not, necessarily, a defeat for the left in Labour any more than Bernie Sanders loss was a defeat for the left in the Democratic party. Sanders helped push the Democrats much more to the left. If Corbyn doesn’t torch the party, that could happen as well. If the party falls apart, this will marginalise the left like almost nothing else could.

Contrariwise, recognising that polices are what matters and that we are, to say the least, living in a country which doesn’t easily tack left and being willing to strategically compromise is the best way to have a substantial and effective effect. We shouldn’t be invested in a person, but in a movement.

N.B. This article contains a compendium of links about issues with Corbyn. I find it mostly compelling though incomplete.

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