This evening, I attended Owen Smith’s love-in at the Llantrisant Leisure Centre.
Credit where it is due, it was a lot better attended than I expected, with somewhere between 200 and 250 cramming the room, including a selection of MPs and AMs ) I recognised Chris Bryant and Nia Griffiths for example). I am not going to go into Smith’s speech as we have heard it all before. It was Smith polishing his delivery in front of a friendly audience, and it was indeed pretty polished, complete with his “thumb of power” to the fore.
The tactics have become quite clear. A year ago, Jeremy was unelectable because he was too left, too socialist, according to his opponents. Owen no longer pushes this line. Indeed, he tries his damnedest to persuade us that he is just as much a socialist and just as radical as Jeremy (despite the copious objective evidence to the contrary), but that Jeremy is now unelectable because he is weak in his opposition to the Tories; that he lacks sufficient wit at the dispatch box; and that attracting record levels of membership and being the draw for huge rallies does not translate into being a credible government. These are, of course, subjective criticisms that we will always differ on.
After his prolonged monologue, he took a Q&A session. I have to admit, I felt somewhat intimidated as there were repeated insinuations of a Corbyn personality cult; Momentum being ‘the child of Militant Tendency’;of rising problems of anti-semitism and misogyny on Corbyn’s watch etc. At my most confident, I would have spoken up and faced up, but I bottled it, feeling that it would not have been taken as a constructive contribution, as it was far from any sort of debate. This was re-enforced by the fact that Smith seemed to know just about every questioner by name. He repeatedly stressed how this was his home patch, and I soon felt like an interloper at family get together. Some were quite overtly aggressive in their tone and urging Smith to go on the attack a lot more. Smith stated that this would be coming.
He dodged one particular question about what Smith saw happening after this election, choosing to leave it the end. And he was quite explicit and blunt about it.
If he wins, he will unite the party (no hint of how), take the fight to the Tories (presumably via witty retorts at the despatch box), and lead the party into government (obviously).
If Jeremy Corbyn wins the party will split. Simple as that.
Considering the NEC elections and all other indications make Smith winning nothing but a remote possibility, I can only assume that Smith, Bryant and company have already prepared said split.
On the way out, a gentleman asked me what I had thought about the evening. I told him that was wondering whether people like him were likely to follow Smith out of the Labour Party and into some sort of SDP v.2. He said, “Do you really think it will come to that?” “Depends on whether you believe anything he says”, I said.