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Owen Smith Makes Me Hate Myself

Wallowing in the misery of pragmatism.

by Sam Wolfson
03 August 2016, 11:05pm

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Owen Smith: even the name is like drinking a tepid glass of water in a beige room. Owen Smith looks like the prototype for a scrapped Fireman Sam character who's been biodegrading in an animator's warehouse somewhere for 15 years before deciding he wants to become Labour leader. What question is Owen Smith the answer to? What problem is he fixing? Surely this tea-coloured oblong is not meant to be the charismatic, strong leader that Jeremy Corbyn could never be?

This shouldn't even be a contest. Corbyn is a principled socialist who wants to make the lives of every young and poor person in the country better. Owen Smith is the middle manager from Swansea branch who has worked there for 23 years and has never once been made employee of the month.

Full disclosure: I believe in the things that I think Jeremy Corbyn believes in. That inheritance tax should be sky high to stop wealth staying in rich families. That trains, utilities, and even dispensaries of tobacco and alcohol should be nationalised and the profits should help fund the welfare state. That the measure of an ideal society is not economic growth but levels of equality, and it is worth sacrificing our wealth as a nation if it means we can spread what wealth we have more equally.

I also don't think it's insane to think that someone like Corbyn could win a general election. If politics in the past few years has taught us anything, it's that a couple of brilliant well-timed ideas, even a smart slogan (Take Our Country Back/Make America Great Again), can go against decades of supposed electoral orthodoxy.

But what has become clear this past nine months is that Corbyn is far from capable of a smart slogan, let alone a brilliant well-timed idea. He says he wants to change politics, but while politics remains unchanged, he is losing at it, very badly.

Corbyn has announced eight new policy pledges for this campaign but I bet you couldn't tell me one of them. Whether it's his incompetence in dealing with the media or the media's unwillingness to report on them, it almost doesn't matter, because Corbyn has no plan to deal with his negative media coverage, except to complain about it. He fights every petty battle like he was defending his own personal honour, rather than defending the defenceless.

Meanwhile, Owen Smith, the air-flavoured jelly bean, had a proper policy announcement at a university in Milton Keynes, where he spelled out his plans for working conditions. It was widely covered by the press. Smith wants to raise the national minimum wage to £8.25 in line with recommendations from the Living Wage Foundation. He'll also extend it to everyone over 18. And reverse Tory cuts to in-work benefits. And he wants to look into pay disparities between highest-paid and lowest-paid at companies that receive a lot of government contracts. Those are all good things - not awe-inspiring, revolutionary changes, but the kind of diet-socialism that will benefit millions and that most of the country can get on board with.

Undoubtedly, Smith would not be on stage talking about executive pay if Corbyn hadn't pushed the whole debate to the left, but isn't that the point? If we get the broad strokes of Corbyn's politics but packaged into media-friendly soundbites by a man boring enough to be palatable to Middle England, is that not enough? Do we need to look cool too? Does it always have to be Corbyn, even if Corbyn is an unworkable politician who can't command his own party or win an election?

But I know. Voting for Owen Smith is like leaving a party at 11pm because you've got to do some "life admin" the next day. It's ordering a green salad at McDonalds. It's having sex in the missionary position until your wife falls asleep. It's telling your nephew that sorry, we're not going to be able to go to Alton Towers this weekend, but we can go to the playground in the local park instead and pretend the seesaw is Nemesis.

I want any reason not to vote for Owen Smith. I want you to tell me that Corbyn's got it all planned out and he's got a smart campaign strategy to win back Tory marginals. I want you to tell me that if you squint at the polling really hard it turns out Labour aren't 16 points behind. I want you tell me that Owen Smith hurts children. Please, help me find a way to feel good about my vote, rather than wallowing in the misery of pragmatism, calling it an early night with Owen Smith, a man with nothing going for him except the vague promise of adequate competency.

@samwolfson

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