In these fast-moving times, politicians seem to be bursting forth almost as fast as we can call them wankers, almost. Owen Smith is one such figure, emerging from the ether to present himself as the shiny new saviour of the Labour Party. His pitch seems largely based around the fact he’s a Mr. Nobody who you therefore have no dirt on, exactly the kind of nothing you’d want to put in charge of a political party which stands for nothing. But appearances can be deceptive – he’s not new, he is very New Labour – and there is loads and loads of dirt.
Owen’s spent a lot of time refuting any suggestion he’s just another Blairite, pointing out that he wasn’t even in Parliament until 2010, a likely excuse. In 2002 (i.e. during the Blair Government), Smith began working as a special advisor to the Welsh Secretary. The huge growth in unelected advisors became a hallmark of the Blair years and while Smith lacks the linguistic ability to be much of a Malcolm Tucker, it’s a bit of a cheek for someone who cut his teeth in the most Blairite of “industries” to kid on he was definitely in no way connected to the Government…which he worked for.
Smith’s next big political role was as Head of Policy and Government Relations with drug giant Pfizer. Pfizer are notorious lobbyists of Governments worldwide, spending around $25m lobbying in the US in 2010 alone and the company have often given large sums to Labour’s Blairite “Progress” Faction. Pfizer also take a keen interest in privatising the NHS, a press release issued relating to a Pfizer funded focus group, quotes Smith as saying,
We believe that choice is a good thing and that patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda.
By 2006, Owen Smith was ready for a return to politics and “the agenda” was made clear in an interview he gave to Wales Online, when he was a Labour candidate for the constituency of Blaenau Gwen. When asked about the Private Finance Iniative, the economic cornerstone of New Labour under Blair, Smith said,
We’ve had PFI in Wales, we’ve had a hospital built down in Baglan through PFI. If PFI works, then let’s do it.
When asked about the role of private finance in the NHS, we got,
Where they can bring good ideas, where they can bring valuable services that the NHS is not able to deliver, and where they can work alongside but subservient to the NHS and without diminishing in any respect the public service ethos of the NHS, then I think that’s fine.
This was also the interview where he expressed support for the Iraq War, comparing it to the fight against fascism in Spain. Smith had the cheek to go on the radio after announcing his leadership bid and falsely claiming he was “opposed” to the war at the time. Smith didn’t win in 2006, eventually being elected in 2010 as MP for the Pontypridd constituency.
He rose quickly through the ranks, firstly as a junior minister and later as the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales during the leadership of Ed Miliband. He won the seat again in 2015, with a hugely increased majority following the collapse of the Lib Dem vote. After Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, Smith was appointed Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, the role he quit during the botched attempt to topple Corbyn back in June. He’s presented himself as a “radical” who agrees with everything Corbyn says but has that quality everyone who can’t beat Corbyn in an election loves to talk about…”electability” – it’s what Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall had in bucketloads, apparently. And we’re not saying that, at the moment, Smith doesn’t have to say lots of left-wing things, to please the Labour party membership but his radicalism starts to look thin on the ground, the further you look into his record and behaviour.
During the leadership debate last week, Smith claimed he wanted 50% of all MPs and the shadow cabinet to be women (imagine if Corbyn had already appointed a gender balanced cabinet which Smith, erm, quit). Despite trying to imply that Corbyn was a bit dodgy on gender, Smith’s own record doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, given that back in 2006 (oh yes, that same interview), he opposed women only-shortlists, the method the Labour Party had adopted to try to achieve gender balance, on the basis they weren’t very popular. When he’s not barely supporting women unless local people don’t want to vote for them, he can be found apologising for saying he wants to “smash [Theresa May] back on her heels“, telling Leanne Wood that her “gender helps” her get on TV more than him and comparing the coalition Government to an abusive relationship.
Oh aye, and there was what he did a few weeks short weeks ago, when he was standing against an out lesbian women. While Angela Eagle may be hanging about, awaiting her job as Shadow Chancellor in Smith’s “Government in waiting” (they’ll be waiting a while), we can’t overlook just how quickly Smith appealed directly to his status as a “normal” straight man, telling a Sky News panelist,
I’m glad you think I’m normal. I am normal. You know, I grew up in a normal household. I’ve got a wife and three children. My wife’s a primary school teacher.
A Thousand Flowers would like to congratulate Owen on his hetero-normality, we’re surely he’s really proud of himself. As if to demonstrate this, here’s a photo of him at Pride in Liverpool last weekend, which I hope haunts your nightmares as much as it has mine.
To go from Mr. Normal to rocking up at an LGBTI+ event dressed like a sweaty accountant at the Christmas party gives me the boak. Perhaps by the time the campaign is over, he’ll have cast himself as the main protagonist at the Stonewall riots (not that he’s less plausible than the one in the recent Hollywood effort). But seriously, if you play the “I’m straight and married with kids and therefore normal” card when your opponent is gay, you can spare us the pinkwashing.
One of the most oft-repeated claims of Smith and his chums is that Corbyn wasn’t against Brexit as much as them, despite the fact he campaigned against it, often several times a day, to large crowds of always jubilant supporters. Corbyn certainly managed to convince his own constituency to vote Remain, something Smith didn’t. Still Smith seems keen to exploit the result to pander to racism. In an interview in which he questioned Corbyn’s “patriotism,” when asked whether there were, “too many immigrants,” he replied, “I think it depends where you are.” From where I am, the fuelling of anti-immigration sentiment didn’t start with the Brexit Campaign or with the rise of UKIP or even the BNP – Labour dredged the gutter on the issue while in power, as exposed in the Chilcot Report, to build support for the war in Iraq and the subsequent erosion of human rights. And if his recent exploits are anything to go by, Smith looks to offer more of the same.
As Corbyn’s supporters engage in mass outpourings of support on social media, it’s fair to say Owen Smith’s supporters have been a little more…rubbish? As well as loads of spam accounts posting identical pro-Smith content, I came across an account aimed at “debunking” myths about Owen Smith, including “the claim” that he abstained on welfare cuts. I’m not sure if “rebunking” is a word but if it is, it would perfectly describe this meme, which confirms “the facts”, which include the fact that Owen Smith abstained on Tory welfare cuts. We’re glad everyone on Twitter agrees about something.
Smith’s already slender chances of winning the election were further damaged when he refused to support the 150,000 new members of Labour who will now get a vote thanks to a recent court ruling. He’s now desperately trying to say he’s pleased about it, while using the decision to suggest the election is delayed. I wouldn’t put it past those on the Labour right to find a way of dragging this out, to make doubly sure the party is completely destroyed and incapable of contesting a General Election.
This opaque vessel is carrying the hopes and dreams of those who believe Labour should continue to operate in the interests of privatisation, war and tabloid editors. That may not be what he even thinks but as an ex-CND member who just voted to renew Trident and someone who wants socialism “within the capitalist system”, I highly doubt he has any idea what he thinks.
I’m no fan of the Labour Party but even I wouldn’t wish Owen Smith on them. He’s not a good replacement for Jeremy Corbyn, he’s not much of a replacement for Angela Eagle come to think of it, he’s just a viagra merchant going increasingly limp in the hands of the political establishment. What a wanker.
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