Jeremy Corbyn’s battle with Owen Smith is entering its final stages. With the next leader of the Labour Party expected to be announced on the 24th September, in the first of a two part series we asked members from the University of Southampton’s Labour Society to explain why they’re voting for one candidate over another.
To myself and many young people, Jeremy Corbyn represents a new breed of politician and has engaged a large amount of disillusioned people throughout the country due to his grass roots movement. Corbyn won a mandate of 59% during his previous leadership election, bigger than Tony Blair who led the Labour party to a landslide victory in 1996. Under Corbyn, Labour has frequently fought off the austerity driven agenda of the Conservative party under David Cameron and has focused on championing the greatest achievements of Britain, the NHS and the welfare state which have all been created because of core Labour values. Corbyn leads a modest lifestyle and is frequently criticised for his ‘scruffy’ appearance including by former Prime Minister David Cameron, who told him to ‘put on a tie and sing the national anthem’, Corbyn strives to not be part of the ‘gentleman’s club’ that Parliament has become.
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Moreover, Corbyn calls for new forms of bottom-up democracy through movements such as momentum which has arguably been further spurred on by Brexit. Leading Brexit officials, the media and public were quick to criticise the ‘unelected bureaucrats’ in Brussels who preside over the EU when back in the United Kingdom we have the House of Lords, made up of 800 appointed officials, which is hardly democratic. Yes, their function may be to balance out the House of Commons, but in a country which boasts of the success of its parliamentary democracy and ‘power to the people’, this is highly ironic. Over 75% of the population agrees that the House of Lords should be scrapped and replaced with an elected upper chamber, which is democratic, accountable and independent, not made up of donors who think they can buy a place in the legislature; for example, hedge fund Michael Farmer was handed a life peerage, and donated almost £7 million to the Conservative party. Corbyn strives for a modern, flexible and efficient Britain, whereby there is not a price put on Democracy.
Corbyn has brought the Labour party back to life after disillusionment caused by Tony Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. For many people Corbyn was the strongest candidate in the leadership race on opposing austerity, welfare cuts, inequality and defending the most vulnerable in society. Since 2008, disability benefits and maintenance grants were cut, tuition fees were increased to £9000 whilst VAT was increased and corporation tax cut; the poorest in society are suffering and we need a strong Labour party to force these proposals out of parliament and protect the people of Britain. For most politicians, they don’t understand the harsh reality of what living on benefits is really like, Corbyn sympathises with those who have been most affected by the cuts to welfare. The swelling membership of the Labour party to 600,000 dwarfs the mere 150,000 members of the Conservative party, and shows that Corbyn should stay as Labour leader #KeepCorbyn.
Jeremy Corbyn can’t lead the party to victory. Corbyn has the most unfavourable polling numbers of any Leader of the Opposition. Ever. On leadership, the only metric in politics that matters at all, Corbyn trails Theresa May a whopping 64 points. Losing elections is not a victimless crime. The vulnerable, unfortunate and disaffected we stand up for are denied a voice by our slide into irrelevance despite needing one the most. A whole generation of young people, us, who will be let down by our clearing of the field to the Tories, cannot eat out on our good intentions. ‘But why vote Smith specifically?’, you ask, ‘Is it just that he’s Not Corbyn?’
Well, partly. Corbyn can’t win and Smith happens to be the other man in the contest. I’m not going to pretend he is without flaws. He’s not yet as polished a media performer as I’d like him to be (see his pledge to ‘knock [Theresa May] back on her heels’), but that’s inexperience. He’s not yet well known – as Smith himself jokes, he’s not even a household name in his own house. I’m not convinced his analysis of the political landscape and the depth of the hole Labour finds itself in is spot on, but he’s just trying to win the contest he’s fighting now.
All of that being said, Smith’s a very strong leadership candidate in his own right. The platform he offers is as practical as it is radical, adding substance to Corbyn’s platitudes. He’s a principled politician and a strong, convincing orator who speaks from the heart and fights for what is right, demonstrated as much in this campaign as in his significant victories as Shadow DWP secretary like the reversal of cuts to PIP disability benefit. He’s shown his bravery and conviction in his willingness to speak truth to the membership, which is no mean feat in such hysterical times. His career at Pfizer, and ten years at the BBC, shows much desired real world experience outside politics, and in the private sector no less. He understands that electoral coalitions need to be built and that they are a bit messy and full of floating voters, who by definition are open to voting Conservative and don’t take kindly to having their views held in contempt. He knows that campaigns are won on impressions, not policy detail, and that no votes are won by loudly expounding the voters on their wrongness. He understands that there are rules to the game and that it’s the job of the Labour leader to just get on with it, rather than complain.
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What does Smith have to offer for young people specifically?
Most of you grew up under a Labour government. Many of you will be the first generation in your family to go to university. Without Labour, who rebuilt thousands of schools, who established the EMA and aimed to help 50% of young people into university education, I doubt that would be the case for so many of us. It’s also clear what Labour being in opposition gets you: the ongoing marketisation of higher education, eye-watering student debts, a return to grammar schools, cuts to funding, cuts to maintenance grants, a lack of jobs, skyrocketing rents. Smith plans to return Labour to government where it can actually stand up for young people, and has concrete policy, not placards, to enact when it gets there: investing £200 billion in the UK economy including in schools, scrapping tuition fees, building 50,000 homes a year reserved exclusively for first time buyers under 30, increasing the minimum wage and extending it to those under 25, removing ‘Right To Buy’, the Living Wage for apprentices and much more. But most importantly, Owen Smith can deliver.
Words written by Ana Bond Esparaguerra and Rob Bradshaw respectively.