Owen Smith is being defined by the Corbynistas. If he doesn’t fight back soon, he’s done

by Atul Hatwal

Owen Smith is in trouble. Day to day, he’s conducting his campaign, pitching his message but he has a strategic problem that is getting worse with each passing hour: definition.

Owen Smith’s PLP backers have made much of Smith being a “clean skin,” lacking the baggage of past votes on issues such as Iraq or the compromises of office.

There is something to this but his lack of prior profile also brings risk. He’s a blank page on which a story will be written, either by himself or the Corbynistas.

The hard left attack on him is very clear: Owen Smith is an ex-lobbyist for Big Pharma and a former Special Adviser, who will return Labour to the days of Brown and Miliband.

The discussion on CLP Facebook groups from across the country is testament to how this attack has already permeated through the party.

Here’s one exchange from a northwest CLP,

“Smith worked for private health companies and was a Blairite adviser. We need to be different to the Tories.”

“I heard he did work for those companies. Not sure about him but I don’t think he’s like Blair. Doesn’t Ed Miliband rate him?”

I’ve seen double digits of groups where this same pattern is being repeated. An accusation is made by a Corbyn backer with little substantive rebuttal. Owen Smith is being framed by his opponent and the few who would speak up for him have little to offer in terms of an alternative, positive definition.

For his part, Owen Smith has emphasised that he is from a new generation and has a conventional family background.

This simply won’t cut it.

At his campaign launch last week, Jeremy Corbyn fell over himself trying to link Owen Smith with private healthcare research, ludicrously calling for medical research by pharmaceutical businesses to be penalised and for Smith to agree with him.

Corbyn’s team pressed the point on Saturday by doubling down on this madness with John McDonnell talking up the removal of tax breaks from companies like Pfizer for research, despite the damage that would be done to British science and impact on patients.

Corbyn’s doing this for a reason: it is working. He doesn’t have to worry about what swing voters in marginal seats will think because he doesn’t care. Controlling the Labour party, not winning power is his objective.

Last year, hundreds of thousands of Labour electors chose Jeremy Corbyn because of how he made them feel about themselves.

Voting Corbyn was an expression of their own identity, a way to stick two fingers up at the political status quo.

He was the alternative, the protest.

Owen Smith needs to work out what he symbolizes for Labour members and supporters and communicate it. Quickly.

In this respect, Angela Eagle or another high profile woman might have had an advantage. To vote for Labour’s first female leader would have carried an inherent significance.

Owen Smith has spent most of the past few weeks campaigning among his colleagues in the PLP.

The attraction of a fresh start is evident to his parliamentary colleagues who have had to deal with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on a daily basis.

For the PLP, the world is a different place to last September. The depth of Jeremy Corbyn’s incompetence has turned days to months and months to years. Many cannot conceive of how Labour can go on with such an utterly incapable leader.

But for Labour members and supporters, months have remained months.

Away from Westminster, in the real world where members of political parties only occasionally tune into the detail of what is happening at the House of Commons, the world remains similar, if not exactly the same, as last year.

Owen Smith needs to pivot to his new audience. To understand their mindset and speak to their priorities. Time is running out.

He has some options.

The referendum defeat was where this challenge to Corbyn started, Europe could offer Owen Smith the wedge issue he needs with Labour’s pro-EU membership.

Equally, he could take Corbyn on over health. The personal testimony of Cancer or HIV survivors who are alive because of advances in medication by pharmaceutical companies could crystallise the difference between Corbyn’s dogma and a more human alternative.

Whatever Owen Smith’s choice on how he fights back, emotional morality rather than policy rationality must be at its core.

One month from today, ballot papers will be sent out and voting will start. Within 1-2 weeks, most will have voted and the race will effectively be over.

Tick tock.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut


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26 Responses to “Owen Smith is being defined by the Corbynistas. If he doesn’t fight back soon, he’s done”

  1. Mike says:

    I certainly don’t support Corbyn but oily Owen is not the answer. Someone like Hilary Benn would be better. Owen is too ambitious and “flexible” in his views.

  2. Mark Livingston says:

    The problem is that Owen Smith is simply barely-reheated Tory-lite New Labour. The electorate said no to any more of it in 2010 and 2015 and they would do so again in 2020.

    Labour’s Blairites have to come up with a policy proposition which both members and the wider electorate could buy into. Promising to cut slightly less than the proper Tories, over a slightly longer timeline, is only slightly attractive.

    So, no New Labour style gimmicks: they need a clear coherent set of policies and a meaningful vision. As things stand, Owen’s having to wing it.

  3. Blair says:

    Smith is already in trouble – his support is falling. Latest polling:-

    Corbyn 54%
    Smith 22%
    Don’t know 20%
    Won’t vote 4%

    For Smith to win, he needs to hold his own share, take all the Don’t Knows, convince the Won’t Votes to vote AND take nearly 10% of Corbyn’s vote off him.

    Research also shows all the accusations of bullyimg, anti-semitism etc etc against Corbyn are not only not working, but are thought so laughable that people are moving towards Corbyn because of them. His position is also wrong. Blue collar for instance will back Corbyn because they believe he will not impede Brexit and accept stopping or at least severely curtailing freedom of movement, whereas Smith is perceived as likely to demand second referendums, insist on freedom of movement. Smith is also perceived as too in favour of the ‘middle class’ etc etc

    Smith is f**ked pure and simple. Wrong candidate, wrong message, wrong beliefs.

    Let the deselections commence.

  4. Blair says:

    Oh, and although Corbyn is not looked on favourbly within the electorate as a whole, amongst Labour voters at ;arge some 54% of say they approve of Corbyn’s leadership after almost a year in the job, while 24% say they disapprove. The remainder had no fixed view.

  5. Just Cann says:

    The accusations against Jeremy are getting beyond rediculous. Corbyn is blamed (wrongly) because some bad person has threatened some MP. Just how is that Jeremy Corbyn fault. Corbyn can’t be held accountable for every nutter and criminal in the UK Just as the Prime Minister Theresa May can’t be held accountable for all bad people in the country.

    There is one thing that is common amongst decent people and that is they can see a false manufactured campaign to discredit as person. And in this instance some labour MPs will do anything to discredit Corbyn. The more they criticise Corbyn the more people will support him. Amongst typical labour party supporters there is no feeling stronger than to defend someone who has been bullied and harassed daily as Corbyn is. So support for Corbyn will continue to get stronger.

    Owen Smith was a lobbyist for pharmaceutical company. It is reported that Owen Smith has someone on his leadership campaign team who is a lobbyist for big pharmaceutical companies and commercial providers of healthcare services. NHS is not safe in Owen Smith’s hands.

    Owen Smith and his supporting MPs have accused Jeremy Corbyn supporters as thugs, bullies and criminals without any proof that it is Jeremy Corbyn supporters. This means that they have accused majority of labour party members as thugs, bullies and criminals. they refuse to accept that it is someone other than Corbyn supporters. To make such accusation without proof is criminal behaviour in its own right.

    Owen Smith and his supporting MPs are responsible for getting all labour party constituencies suspended because they have accused all labour party members of bullying, harassment and intimidation at meetings and refused to accept that it is bad behaviour of one or two persons. This is the same as accusing all black people because of the bad behaviour of one or two black persons or accusing all gay and lesbian people because of the bad behaviour of one or two gay and lesbian persons and so on.

  6. Tafia says:

    Two facts of the day about the Labour leadership election.

    1. Owen Smith – a Lobbyist for Pfizer and Amgen who called the Iraq war “noble” and tried to claim it in the same light as the anti-fascist volunteers who fought in the Spanish civil war.

    2. Angela Eagle’s “office window” was actually a window into the building’s communal stairway used by 4 other offices. The local police say quite categorically they did not tell her to stop surgeries (a lie still printed in the anti-Corbyn media). There is no evidence at all that she or her office were the target – something widely know in her Constituency and she has undermined herself immeasurably.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Mark livingston Ed miliband wasn’t blairite, he pent the last 5 years denouncing new labour, and times have changed we have aPM who such thu few Ed I’m,I and could have said ,last week
    By your definition, jeremy corbyn is re heated Michael foot… Who did worse than Gordin brown

    This article is right, if Jeremy wins, and we get wiped out in the 2018 council elections, and there’s another challenger,we have to point out, that who ever challenges Hez then isn’t a blairite,and that it will be corbyn said fault we lose the 2018 council elections

  8. John P Reid says:

    Just can. Jermey never had a proper job,and Jeremy hasn’t done enough to denounce Momentums sexism homophobia,anti semitism

  9. Forlornehope says:

    Corbyn is right to challenge the way in which big pharma holds the NHS to ransom. What is needed is a state owned generic manufacturer as sole supplier to the NHS. It would mean that NHS patients would have to wait until drugs were out of patent protection before they were available but we all have to make sacrifices to bring about a truly socialist society.

  10. Henrik says:

    Comrades, this is getting more hilarious, almost by the minute.

    HM Opposition seems intent on rendering itself unelectable for the foreseeable. 2020 is already out of Labour’s grasp – my guess is that you’ll be lucky to return 100 staunch Lefties, elected on tribal sentiment alone and certainly not on policy – then; 2025 is beginning to look dubious as well.

    What is the purpose of Labour? Ideological purity or the exercise of power in the interests of its constituency?

  11. Awkwardboy says:

    The entire “establishment” are opposed to Mr Corbyn, the PLP, the tory party and the media (all parts of the establishment) are united in their dislike (contempt?) of Mr Corbyn.
    Unfortunatly for them we are now in a time of strong anti-establishment feeeling, we don’t like you (the establishment), you don’t like Jeremy well we like Jeremy because we don’t like you. To make matters worse your offering to replace Mr Corbyn looks every inch the establishments man and not ours.

  12. buttley says:

    “Owen Smith is being defined by the Corbynistas”

    Or, by his “career” thus far.

    “Whatever Owen Smith’s choice on how he fights back, emotional morality rather than policy rationality must be at its core.”

    Emotional morality = tugging at the heart strings on some victim issue.

    Policy rationality = if we listen to membership & commit to Corbyn style policies, & actually won, we would be forced to act upon them.

    From the very get go (1997), cajoled by the red top tory press, Labour needlessly adopted the dying “Tory” dome project.

    That whole debacle cost the taxpayer, between 750 -1000 million.

    Out of power for over a decade & a half, first priority, having a Y2k congratulatory jolly = emotional morality.

    I know this is chump change in the scheme of things, but it could have built 35,000+ modest housing units @ the time = policy rationality.

  13. paul barker says:

    Labour are at the start of a civil war which can only end in a split. You can either try to control the process by admitting that its already happening & suggesting a deal or you can let the Courts sort it out.
    The NEC is already facing several legal challenges to the way its running the contest, the first on Wednesday challenges the decision to let Corbyn stand without MP sponsorship. If The Court rules against The NEC on that then The Contest could be over before a vote is cast.
    Its a bit late to negotiate a Velvet Divorce but things can only get nastier unless theres some sort of deal.

  14. NickT says:

    “The accusations against Jeremy are getting beyond rediculous.”

    The fact is that Comrade Corbyn has spent years kissing up to every terrorist thug he could find – and John McDonnell was so eager for violence against British citizens that even the IRA thought he was crazy. These clowns don’t care about winning elections – and neither of them is fit for any sort of public office. Theresa May will smash them and their deluded cultists in a general election and she won’t even have to break a sweat.

  15. Feodor says:

    “Last year, hundreds of thousands of Labour electors chose Jeremy Corbyn because of how he made them feel about themselves.

    Voting Corbyn was an expression of their own identity, a way to stick two fingers up at the political status quo.”

    You’re still as clueless now as you were then Atul. Who could forget your bold predictions that Corbyn would finish dead last!

    You’d think you’d have learned a little humility by now and that you’d have the sense to stop digging. But no, on you go, with every half-baked polemic drawing more and more readers towards Corbyn’s camp.

    Political sage you most definitely are not, even if your own inflated ego and lack of self-reflection makes you blind to that. Carry on camper, you certainly amuse. 🙂

  16. Tafia says:

    Feodor – and he predicted a significant win for Remain.

  17. james says:

    I think the electorate have made up their mind. The Tories will be the ones to entrust with national power. Local power will be by whomever is the strongest hardest working person in the area. Meanwhile national Labour is proving to be fantastic in its chosen role – being the entertainment to take our minds off the serious stuff.

    Mao’s book. MI5, `is this the camera that’s on` – just a tiny example of the comedy gold that’s being provided. Keep it up!

  18. Michael M says:

    Smith is a stone cold loser. Just another slippery careerist and everyone can see this.

    Really the so called ‘moderates’ in the PLP deserve to be deselected, they are so stupid and entitled in their views.

  19. Saul Till says:

    Another excellent article Atul. In the interests of balancing out your spittle-flecked opponents in this comments section I’d like to say thanks for being one of the most consistently rational voices tracking this political carwreck. I don’t like Corbyn, either politically or personally, but I can also admit that Owen Smith is no-one’s idea of a strong, confident opponent.

    Which makes me wonder: where the hell are the big beasts of the PLP? If the best the PLP could muster was Angela Eagle and Owen Smith then that doesn’t say much for the fighting spirit of the rest of them. Where’s Chukka Umunna? Where’s Hilary Benn? If this is the end of Labour, if this is an existential struggle for the party(and I think it is), then history will not be kind to those who kept out of the fray for the sake of the short-term health of their careers.

  20. Can you explain how pointing out that Owen Smith worked for Pharma Companies is some form of attack on him. This would appear to be a fact and the simple fact is he can’t and won’t win. He is just more of the Red Tory that is being rejected, look at Scotland and learn some lessons.

  21. john P Reid says:

    saul till, you realise that, Chuka Ammuna dropped out last time as he not only new he wouldn’t win,but that he’d get humilitated, At least Liz Kendall managed to get people like Lord GLasman, Gloria De perio, ,Gavin Shukar Rowenna Davis, Steven Timms and Pound, who all voted Ed Miliband last time

    Hilary came 4th from last on the old system, where MPS votes were worth more than the rest of us, in 2007, so Peter Hain would have prevented him form coming fifth

  22. Tafia says:

    Saul Till – as any lon-time reader of this site will tell you, Atul is extraordinarily consistaent – he is always wrong.

    Two classic examples of Atul-balls are the leadership election – he tipped Kendall to win and Corbyn to finish fourth. The EU referendum – he said, literally days before the vote, Remain were understated and would win by a handsome margin.

    And his list of other disasters is equally as impressive.

  23. Tafia says:

    Saul Which makes me wonder: where the hell are the big beasts of the PLP? If the best the PLP could muster was Angela Eagle and Owen Smith then that doesn’t say much for the fighting spirit of the rest of them. Where’s Chukka Umunna? Where’s Hilary Benn?

    Not only do wise people not back dead horses, they also choose not to become dead horses themselves through fear of contagion. They merely uses sops like Eagle and Owen from behiond the scenes as entirely sacrificial and useful idiots.

    It is obvious Corbyn is going to win – quite easily. What people need to start asking themselves is what will the #chicken-coup plotters do then and what will happen once the deselctions commence in a couple of years time and Corbyn’s revolution clears the decks.

    “Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer”

  24. John says:

    Must admit I’ll never vote Labour being a now one nation liberal that will support May next time.

    However, while the Tories do the serious stuff Labour have their role now as chief jesters to the nation. Keep it up!

  25. paul barker says:

    While Angela Rayner rightly criticises The Tories for looking back to a mythical past, I dont see that Labour is very different. Corbyn yearns for a mix of 1917 & 1968 while Smith wants to revisit the mid 1940s.

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