Owen Smith’s faulty challenge has only made Jeremy Corbyn stronger
Before he became the official Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States, Donald Trump was subject to a humorous conspiracy theory. Jokers supposed that the real estate mogul was in fact a double agent, working on behalf of the Democrat Party and masquerading as a member of the Grand Old Party. As a “deep-cover liberal” Donald Trump’s undercover mission was to provide the party with a dismal and embarrassing candidate who would wreak havoc in the debates and, if made the nominee, ensure that the Republicans had no hope of winning the 2016 presidential election.
Last week, a similar conspiracy theory was posed by a handful of British politicos. Owen Smith, the Welsh MP and challenger to the incumbent leader of the Labour Party, is supposedly an undercover agent loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. He intends to perform as badly as possible in order to ensure the leader’s re-election, to the inevitable outrage of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Taking a look at Smith’s performance, you’d understand why some people think that he is a ‘Corbynite’ sleeper agent. Smith has made a number of political gaffes as the contest has come toward its end, from suggesting that the British government would need to get ISIS “around the table” for peace talks to calling his opponent a lunatic. A number of Smith’s blunders have been related to women and female MPs, the most recent being his suggestion that winning the heart of his wife while at school with hundreds of other boys – “pulling,” as he put it – is an indication of his leadership ability.
Those sympathetic to what Smith is trying to achieve can reasonably argue that Smith’s remarks have been taken out of context, or aren’t as bad as they seem. Yes, Smith did say that Labour needs to “smash” Theresa May “back onto her heels,” but was that just a poor choice of metaphor? It would have been unimaginably worse if Smith had asked for Labour to “boot May back into the kitchen.” Similarly, was Smith’s failed joke request for a prize-winning gobstopper to be used to silence Nicola Sturgeon an attack on all women? I’m sure many people are sick of hearing Nicola Sturgeon but they don’t think gobstoppers should be used on all women.
Smith has also attempted to inspire scepticism of his leader’s commitments to some of the most important matters. On the Question Time special debate, Smith doubted Corbyn’s commitment to resisting anti-Semitism; in an earlier debate, he hinted that Corbyn might have voted for the country to leave the European Union. Again, it’s reasonable to doubt Corbyn’s capacity in these areas. For example, Corbyn’s history of criticising the European Union makes him an unlikely ‘Remain’ voter. However, publicly questioning Corbyn’s will to fight anti-Semitism, to his face and on television, takes the biscuit; it implies that Corbyn isn’t terribly concerned about the welfare of Jews in Britain. With Corbyn’s long history of activism against racism, Smith’s implication looks very immature.
All the same, why in the first place are there any moments that require a debate about whether Smith is a bigot or just clumsy with words? He is supposedly the credible alternative to Jeremy Corbyn: a man with similar left-wing beliefs and commitments but with capability in leadership, oratory; a man with prime ministerial qualities. Smith is meant to be someone who knows what he is doing, there to replace an inept leader.
Jeremy Corbyn is far from perfect and what he has in commitments, activism and experience, he lacks in dynamism and speechmaking. Despite a memorable critique of the incoming grammar schools policy recently, Corbyn is routinely ridiculed in the House of Commons debates and receives little support from his own side.
Smith was meant to ride in as the champion, someone who not only is as left-wing as Corbyn but who is also respected by his MPs and a competent leader. However, it looks like the ‘undercover Corbynite’ has done his job. Corbyn is set to win. Labour members who oppose Jeremy Corbyn must be wondering how this limp candidate was their supposedly best attempt to overthrow the party leader. Regrettably for the Labour Party, their political opponents have the joy of pointing to a party where both contenders for its leadership seem unelectable.