by Nic Dakin
Speaking for Owen Smith at a nomination meeting I came face to face with the truth that members believe about what caused the current crisis and leadership election. It’s a truth that’s been pushed by certain sections of the media and a lot of people supportive of the current Labour Leader on social media. It’s not a truth I recognise. But for many of the really good, honest, genuine people there it had become a truth they passionately believed.
And it goes something like this: Jeremy Corbyn has done a really good job in leading the party resulting in it being ahead in the polls prior to the current difficulties. These difficulties have been caused by dreadful Labour MPs (much hissing and booing whenever these pantomime villains were mentioned!) who orchestrated a coup against the noble Leader who has continued to behave with huge dignity and generosity throughout.
The reality, of course, is rather different. I lived through these events and my truth is very different to this carefully polished, well spun version of events.
My truth goes something like this. If it hadn’t been for around 20 MPs wanting to broaden the debate in the last election Jeremy Corbyn would never have got on the ballot. Once on the ballot he fought a brilliant campaign and won. It was the duty of all of us to then get behind him and do everything we could to make him successful.
With the exception of a handful of MPs (rather like the handfuls of MPs, often including Jeremy, who’d always been against past leaders) all the Parliamentary Labour Party got behind the leader. Most of us took the positions he asked us to in the hope that he would be the Leader we needed. But leadership is a responsibility as well and Jeremy consistently struggled to deliver in and outside of parliament. Nonetheless we remained doggedly loyal. Loyalty is in our bones and even now it’s been difficult for people like Thangham Debbonaire, Lilian Greenwood and Heidi Alexander to tell their stories of what they experienced ago under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The local elections results were poor but not quite the total catastrophe some feared. 90% of polls since Mr Corbyn became leader showed his Labour party significantly behind the Conservatives. Nevertheless we all expected to carry on for at least another year hoping that between our efforts and the leader’s growing experience we would come to a point when we began to operate as a competent opposition.
Just before the Referendum recess the education team was speculating on who would be the next education secretary and putting plans together to take the battle to the government on a range of issues. Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary, had just appointed (in consultation with the leader’s office) a Special Advisor to support the team replacing a colleague who’d left. We expected to hit the ground running once the Referendum was concluded; we were ready and raring to go.
So what changed? A couple of days later we all got the awful news of Jo Cox’s murder. It’s difficult to underestimate the impact this terrible event had on Labour MPs, the sense of grief that it unleashed. A week later the country voted for Brexit, so on top of this grief was heaped searing despair.
Then up pops our leader and calls for the immediate triggering of Article 50 – something even the most ardent Brexiteers knew was foolhardy and irresponsible. Then we had what I see as the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand moment, the spark that caused all the other events to follow – the sacking of the shadow foreign secretary by the leader in the early hours of the morning. That’s what triggered the train of events that followed. Even going down on the Monday morning I didn’t expect to have resigned my position on the front bench before the day was out.
So my truth, which I think is closer to the real truth, is messy, unpredictable, chaotic. A truth for which we all share the responsibility and blame. A human truth.
I hope all Labour members and supporters who want to be in a position to improve people’s lives and make a difference to the country vote for Owen Smith to be the next Labour Leader. If they do Owen will win and we will quickly become the credible opposition and alternative government that this country needs.
Nic Dakin is MP for Scunthorpe