by Robyn Banks
Since the day the Labour party shot itself in the foot and used the turmoil in the Conservative party as an opportunity to break its own ranks, a great divide seems to have appeared among the left. While Corbyn’s election as Labour leader swelled its membership with young and idealistic newcomers, many worry that he is still not electable. After he was deemed too left wing by the PLP and his opposition deemed too right wing for the membership, it became clear that what was needed was a new face- to package Corbyn’s ideas in to a smoother, less radical and more electable politician.
Enter Owen Smith. Despite there being no dramatic differences between Corbyn and Smith’s publicly professed politics, the left wing of the internet has spiralled in to bickering about nuances and rumours from the past, dividing itself in to the radicals and the Blairites, the entryists and the game theorists. What was once a political discussion has now become some kind of complex emotional entanglement.
Those endorsing Smith have a point – the strategy of marketing old ideas behind a young face seems to be working on the membership to the point that it has almost severed the party clean in half. Both are left wing, anti-austerity candidates with few skeletons in the closet, and supporters of both seem to vehemently hate supporters of the other.
I have to admit that I am not impartial, having joined the Labour party solely to support Corbyn. My Smith supporting peers often leave me feeling angry and betrayed, but, likewise, my radical and seemingly irrational support of a politician who has been repeatedly declared unelectable makes them feel angry and betrayed. When we analyse this anger, where does it come from?
When we analyse this anger, where does it come from?
Jeremy Corbyn has a 20 year history of activism, socialism and commitment to social justice, and a squeaky clean voting record in his favour. There are very few points that I disagree with him on, and the same goes for most people I know, even avid Smith supporters. We all agree he seems like an overall good guy. What he doesn’t have in his corner is personality – the ability to engage with and play the media, respond appropriately to false allegations and to be that charismatic leader we all desire. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, an inability to consistently play a part comes over as a major failing.
Owen Smith does not have history on his side. As he has only been an MP since 2010 he can hardly be expected to have a voting record to match the likes of Corbyn, and (almost) everything he has said since announcing his running in the leadership election has been agreeable. But there is no history of activism, no passionate commitment to justice.
Where Corbyn stumbles in to power in a scenario almost akin to Jon Snow’s election in the Night’s Watch, Smith actively seeks power. What Smith does have on his side is ambition and personality. Despite his history as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies which desire further privatisation of our healthcare system, backing Andy Burnham as leader in the first leadership election, and failing to outright oppose deadly austerity measures until it was popular to do so, he has still won the hearts and minds of many young Labour idealists. Playing the media is something Smith is very good at, and something which seems necessary in this day and age. And that takes me back to the source of that anger – fear.
At a time when the Conservatives and everybody further to the right were being made to look foolish, we broke ranks to fight among ourselves, but all of that anger comes from the same place. We all fear the same thing as each other- more long years of austerity under tory reign. And we all want the same thing too – to vote for Labour and encourage others to vote for Labour because, fans of party politics or not, for the first time in what feels like forever the heart of old socialist Labour has an opportunity to be reborn and right the injustices of the last decade.
Articles smearing both Smith and Corbyn spread like wildfire through left wing circles, pitting us against each other and distracting ourselves from the true enemy.
How, when Labour membership and support has swelled so exponentially, can we be so pessimistic and angry with each other? It’s the very thing that Smith courts and Corbyn avoids: the press. Headline after headline about a party in turmoil has filled us with self-doubt and fear. Articles smearing both Smith and Corbyn spread like wildfire through left wing circles, pitting us against each other and distracting ourselves from the true enemy. I know who I think is the better candidate, but I don’t ask you to vote for him. Instead, I ask you to remember the things we have in common, young or old, entryist or old-timer, and to base your vote on fact and not wild speculation. On policies and not personalities. On your own opinions, and not the opinions of those who would tear us apart. We get the politicians we deserve, and we should know better than to be whipped up by the commotion.
Featured image via ibtimes