What do the Labour leadership candidate’s policy proposals tell us?by John McTernan / July 29, 2016 / Leave a comment
What is Smithism? This is not an idle question. The relentless onslaught of policy from Owen Smith in his campaign for the Labour leadership is worth reflecting on. It is not simply that it is in stark contrast to nearly a year of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. A year in which we have become used to jeremiads against the things which are wrong with the country—but with nothing more practical as a conclusion than an assertion that “it must change.” Nor that it feels very different from last year’s leadership election—can anyone remember a single policy promoted by any of Corbyn’s opponents? I certainly can’t.
The fact is that it feels as though we have travelled back in time to a previous era—the moment in the 1890s/1900s when the modern Labour Party was being formed. That was a time of speeches and pamphleteering—a battle of ideas that to this day define the form, the values and the ideology of Labour. In those days, Smith would have published his policies as a pamphlet or as a series of essays in a newspaper. Today they come in the form of a sheet of paper shared rapidly on social media. The contribution is similar however—intellectual and ideological. And it is entirely appropriate—this is a battle between two competing strands of left-wing thinking. At the turn of the last century it was syndicalism that opposed a parliamentary approach, now the alternative is labelled a “social movement.”
So, what do Owen Smith’s “Twenty Theses” tell us? First and foremost that Smith understands that only the soft left can defeat the ultra-left. In the middle of the adulation of Jeremy Corbyn—at his rallies and on social media—it is sometimes hard to remember that there is a political project at the heart of Corbynism. The mixture of hopeful projection on the part of his supporters—Corbyn is the solution to whatever specific social or economic problem they are concerned about—and his carefully cultivated status as victim obscures this. But the lack of political ideas projected by Corbyn is not down to the fact that he doesn’t have them—it is down…