In my morning email check, there was one with the subject title: “Jeremy Corbyn vs Owen Smith – 48 hours to go”. In this case, it was encouraging folk (like me) to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the imminent Labour leadership contest, although I have seen something similar regarding Owen Smith’s candidature.
In one sense, I have said all I needed to say about the Labour leadership contest (check out here for my recent thoughts on the matter) but I thought I would pitch in with some final thoughts. Even so, when it comes to who to vote for, I am almost neutral, just as I am regarding the Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton contest that our American friends are about to decide on and, just as in that case, it is a hypothetical question because I don’t have a vote, yet a difficult one if I had, since I have no obvious preference.
I recall when Ed Milliband stood down, creating a need for a Labour leadership contest, most were taken by surprise that Corbyn won that contest by a large majority, over his three more likely rivals. One of the reasons we have the contest now is many of Corbyn’s fellow MPs are dissatisfied he is doing a good enough job as leader (and fear just like under Michael Foot in years gone by they would be destined for political wilderness). Many who are leading figures in the Party have said they are no longer willing to serve under him.
I have to confess that I have not followed developments and past records etc. close enough to come to a sound evaluation of the relative merits of the two men and, to a large extent, have to go by gut instinct, which I suspect will be what most will do when it comes to the vote. On one hand, we have Corbyn who is a genuine socialist, very intelligent and principled, but much like past Labour leader, Michael Foot, inept at leading and unelectable as far as the public goes. On the other hand, we have Smith who is more the pragmatist, also intelligent but maybe not so principled, much like a past Labour leader, Tony Blair, adept at leading and electable as far as the public goes. Smith is a lesser known quantity as far as personalities goes (before the election I hadn’t even heard of him) and I have still to make up my mind. I was incensed that unlike Corbyn he is proposing to backtrack on Britains decision to leave the EU, but delighted by some of his ideas around tackling homelessness – but there are many other issues and I just don’t know where he stands. As for Corbyn, I get the impression that behind the high ideals and lofty principles is something that just isn’t going to work.
I think Labour are in an unenviable predicament given the way they elect their leader. They have come a long wayfrom the time when a large number of block votes under Trade Union control would sway the outcome and now it is a matter of one person, one vote, and for a measly £3 any Tom, Dick or Harriet can become a a member of the party and thereby be entitled to vote. This has worked well for Corbyn in the past and, if the bookies are to be believed (and they usually are), will work well for him this time too, even though, if it were down to just the MPs, Smith, would win easily. There is no easy solution, of course, but in my view the Conservatives are nearer getting it right by letting the MP’s (who have to work closely with the leader after all) put forward what is in their view the best two candidates and then the signed up members are called upon to decide who they prefer. Having said that, as we saw recently, when that did happen, one of the two candidates was effectively nobbled and withdrew, leaving members with no choice at all.
As I have said in my past writings, I do have a soft spot for Labour, for that is where my roots lie. I have a number of friends, who I respect, who are Labourites (the majority I suspect are rooting for Smith). While there is a lot about socialist ideology and social liberalism that I recoil from, and is the reason why in all conscience I cannot become a member, any more than I can when it comes to any other political party, I think in the current political climate with its rightward tendency and unwillingness to address a number of social justice issues, leaving us wondering where the opposition is going to come from, we need a strong Labour party, and not one that is ideologically lightweight, merely craving power. Yet my gut feeling is they would do better under Smith than they would under Corbyn, and thus be best placed to lead in government, but in any case there is a lot of work to do for them to get their act together.