If I hear Owen Smith referred to as ‘the unity candidate’ one more time, I’m going to have to bury my head under a pile of cushions to let out a long stress busting scream.
I just don’t get it you see. The majority of labour members and trade unions back Corbyn. Not only that, according to recent polls, the vast majority of labour voters do too. Only the PLP don’t. But somehow, if we make the 171 happy at the expense of literally millions of ordinary people, unity will follow.
The 171 are basically taking us all for granted. That’s exactly the kind of thinking that cost us Scotland and once safe Labour constituencies in the North. This group of MPs, all doing the same job, earning the same income, often mixing in the same circles, of similar ages, and limited ethnic and cultural diversity, sharing political views a cigarette paper apart, have their finger on the pulse of the electorate to a much greater degree than millions of ordinary people.
This eye watering arrogance beggars belief. It would be like everyone in my family wanting to go to Spain for our annual summer holiday, except me, who for the sake of ‘unity’ decided we should all go to France, my favoured destination. If I overruled everyone in that way, my family would call me out for my selfishness, and rightfully so. If my ego had inflated to such gargantuan proportions I believed my wishes now surpassed those of everyone else in my family, they’d soon prick it with a big figurative pin until it deflated to a normal healthy size. What they wouldn’t do is go along with my decision, thereby fuelling my grotesque sense of grandiosity.
If I put this argument to an Owen Smith supporter I usually get the same response, ‘9 million people gave them their mandate.’ But this just fuels their grandiosity even more. Most people vote for a party, not an individual. And besides, as I previously mentioned, the majority of Labour supporters/potential voters back Corbyn for leader over Smith. This will probably surprise some of you because most poll related headlines screamed, ‘Voters think Smith would be a better leader than Corbyn!’ You had to dig deeper to discover the voters being referred to were Tory or Lib-Dem voters. The usual response to this inconvenient nugget of information is something along the lines of ‘but we have to win over Tory voters to win a GE.’ To which I fire back, ‘At the expense of Labour voters who prefer Corbyn?’
Which brings us back to this ‘New Labour’ habit of taking existing Labour voters for granted. This is a grave mistake to make. For every Tory who’d switch to Labour simply because Smith was at the helm, another two might take their votes elsewhere. And the only reason Smith is getting a relatively easy ride from the media right now is because they favour him over Corbyn; a lifelong socialist who is seen as a real threat to the tax dodging millionaire press barons. Once the Corbyn threat has passed it will be business as usual, and Owen will be mocked and vilified just as Corbyn is now. As a result, those Tory voters will soon change their minds. But the Labour voters who are strongly for Corbyn, despite a year of press and PLP vilification, might well give up on Labour if Owen wins; particularly if he wins by a margin slimmer than the number of voters disenfranchised by the vote freeze and an over zealous purge.
Democracy would have to be seen to have been served if an Owen win was to stand any chance of winning over these Corbyn backers. But how can that be, with well over a hundred thousand voters disenfranchised, many of whom were likely to have voted Corbyn? A ‘unity candidate’ who only has the power to unify 171 MPs who are already nicely unified is not a unity candidate in my book, or many other’s books I don’t doubt.
Smith is the disunity candidate. A win for Smith has immense power to turn off hundreds of thousands of Labour members and several key unions, but potentially millions of Labour voters too. The message a Smith win sends those voters is ‘You don’t count! Only Tory voters count! You like Corbyn? Well too bad. You must be mad or bad to like him. Besides, we are sure when push comes to shove you’ll back us once Smith wins. It’s not as if we’ve had a mass exodus of Labour voters in the past…erm…apart from the five million who stopped voting Labour under Blair and Brown..cough…err…but that won’t happen this time, we are sure of it. And we are ALWAYS right.’
Except their arrogance would have dire consequences for our party, which is why we must work hard to deliver Corbyn a resounding mandate to make sure those consequences never come to pass.
But what about unifying the PLP if Corbyn wins? That is a fair question and one I grapple with all the time. The PLP may be small in number in relative terms, but they are big in power. In the short term there isn’t an easy answer. My family would be limited in their power to stop me screaming and shouting and making everyone’s life a misery if I didn’t get my way over France in the hypothetical scenario I described earlier. But does that mean they should let me get my way to avoid such unpleasantness? Of course not. Wrong is wrong, and it’s never wrong to stand up against it.
As someone once wisely said to me, sometimes all you can do is take the first right step, then trust the next right step will make itself clear.
Step forward comrades, and stay strong. ✊