Labour’s leadership battle between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith has reached its final week. In the second of our 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.
I am a pragmatic socialist and I believe Owen Smith should be the leader of the Labour party. Labour’s ultimate aim is to persuade the British electorate to vote Labour into Government at the 2020 General Election. While there are numerous factors why Owen Smith has a greater chance of convincing a large number of the British people to vote Labour, I will try and focus on the most important ones.
The Labour party is 11 points behind the Conservatives based off current YouGov polls, and would not win a snap election. This shortfall in the polls is based off of Labour’s current image crisis, as the party is now seen as an untrustworthy party incapable of running itself. Labour’s image problem stems from the civil war that is currently engulfing the party between the activists who want more influence and to progress from the Blair years, the MPs who want greater freedom, and the trade unions who want their unions interests reflected in Labour Party policies.
I believe Owen Smith will solve the short term problems of the party by bringing its members together, whilst also offering a long term distinct vision for the party. Owen Smith has a strong backing from MPs who desire greater freedom, supported by his backing of 172 Labour MPs and MEPs. While officially the trade unions are supporting Corbyn, with eight out of the big 14 supporting Corbyn, four in fact have already publicly declared their support for Owen Smith, with the remaining two still undecided. Such division by Trade Unions and the origins of their support behind Corbyn makes you question how big the leader’s support really is. One example of this is Corbyn’s support from GMB, where in an open ballot, only 60% of the Trade Union favoured Corbyn. This leads me to believe that although I believe the union leaders support Corbyn the members are more divided than we would expect.
Furthermore, Owen Smith has a greater understanding of the British media, a highly influential political tool in the build-up to elections. Smith’s experience working for the BBC will give him the insider knowledge of how to campaign and publicise effectively. He demonstrated this ability in the immediate aftermath of announcing his leadership challenge by appearing on every media station and presenting his policies and himself to the public. Comparatively, Jeremy Corbyn’s team relies heavily on social media. While social media is undoubtedly a useful tool it has its limitations, as generally the older generation who have higher voter turnout are less likely to follow these new media outlets.
Another decisive factor is the attention to detail with policies. Although I admire some of the themes Corbyn promotes, he lacks a clear policy. On the other hand Owen Smith has said an investment of 200 billion is needed (which the Tory party agree with by making it a topic in their leadership contest), and has even outlined how he would raise this money through a 50p rate, a wealth tax on the top 1 percent and borrowing. In contrast, John Macdonald says he will invest 500 billion but has only said how he would get big businesses like Google and Starbucks to pay the tax they owe Britain, and has not given further policy information.
For this Labour leadership contest Labour’s members should vote for the candidate most likely to get into office through compromise and being seen as a competent Prime minster by the politically neutral voters, not just the candidate that says what we want to hear.
There has been a certain status quo in place this country for the past 20 years which our three major parties have all worked to uphold: bailouts for the rich, cuts, privatisation and falling living standards for the rest of us. The Liberal Democrats joined the Tories in maintaining it in 2010 when they betrayed the students over tuition fees, and ‘New Labour’ – which introduced them – has been complicit since Tony Blair took office in 1997. The nation, including many young people, became disengaged from a parliamentary system that had stopped promising change, let alone delivering it.
Jeremy Corbyn has changed all that. This is precisely why so many of his MPs are willing to drive a wedge between them and their members and completely disregard the party’s democratic procedures all to see him unseated from the leadership. The Labour Party can only bend so far before it breaks. So why is now the time to stand up for Labour? Why am I, a student and active party member, willing to pay an extra 25 quid to vote in yet another leadership election?
Corbyn is changing the face of politics right before our eyes. He’s asking our questions at Question Time, giving the people their own voice in parliament. While other politicians, trained in the art of avoiding questions, blather around the matter at hand, Jeremy is fearless in going to the crux of any issue. When watching Prime Ministers Question time, I no longer cringe at the farcical performance as it had become. He meets childish insults and incessant heckling with dignity and determination; instead focusing on what parliamentary politics should be about. It’s about people’s lives. Above all, it’s about what government can do to help. As one progressive young journalist put it ‘his straight talking sincerity, sorely lacking elsewhere is raising the confidence of a betrayed nation’. It is beyond refreshing to see a politician take democracy seriously, particularly where it’s supposed to take place.
Corbyn’s Labour is the only party that proposes to do anything for us. It pledges to scrap tuition fees, renew maintenance grants, invest more in our universities and free us from debt. It will rebuild vital social housing that will solve the housing crisis crippling our nation and provide shelter to families most vulnerable. The renationalisation of the railways will make public transport cheaper and more efficient while re-creating thousands of lost jobs. Returning the NHS to public hands will put healthcare provision over profit once more, saving countless lives, whilst equalising mental health services through investment. A move particularly vital for our generation who face unprecedented stress in today’s historically competitive and unfair economy. All contributing to a more equal and just society.
There is much confused talk now about ‘Labour values’, but to be clear, it was these socialist principles the party was founded upon. It was only after a decade of Tory rule that Blair took the party rightwards, sacrificing core principles to win the political game. Social justice was out of fashion and power was in. But Corbyn, with his quirky knitwear, clearly isn’t interested in fashion, but in progress. And finally, we have a real opposition party tenaciously standing up to the status quo. As Corbyn himself is always saying, this is about more than one man; it’s about people, standing up for themselves. A vote for Corbyn is a vote for a society that works for everyone, not for the few. It’s a vote for a world we want to inherit, and for one I believe we can win.
Words written by Henry Lane and Clara Pope-Sutherland respectively.