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I voted for Owen Smith. Here’s why.

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I grew up in a Labour-voting family; I’ve voted Labour in every election I could and I’ve been a member for several years. I’m not a Tory.  As a Sixth Former and young adult I loved Neil Kinnock – his opposition to Thatcher and the Falklands war were heroic; a real inspiration to me. I also loved Tony Benn.  His idealism was intoxicating. I’m a sucker for a bit of heart-felt social justice oratory.

But 18 years of Tory rule was no joke.  It was bloody awful.  As far as I’m concerned, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown came to the rescue. They won.  ‘New Labour’ may have been unnecessary branding, but so what: Labour ideals were shaping actual policies. I admired Blair enormously for winning over the electorate. New Labour did more for ‘ordinary decent people’ than Jeremy Corbyn ever has or probably  ever will.

Of course, it wasn’t all good. Mistakes were made. Iraq was a disaster. I was furious; disillusioned.  We marched and protested to no avail. Chilcot confirmed what millions knew at the time: WMD was a flimsy excuse for global power projection; we over-estimated our capacity to enforce regime change.  Blair’s subsequent descent into self-righteous madness, that dangerously delusional Messiah-complex, a man  who could not hear dissent – it was a tragedy. But he made a real difference nonetheless. His legacy is significant.

During the Blair years, teachers’ pay and conditions improved significantly and education policy started to move forward. National Strategies, whilst imperfect, were putting important ideas about assessment and curriculum onto the mainstream school agenda like never before.  Even though there were mistakes – excessive GNVQ equivalences and grade inflation were mistakes; failing to deliver on Tomlinson was a mistake, excessive OfSTED power was a mistake – the emphasis on building an education system for all, investing in early intervention, Every Child Matters and investing in school leadership were strong guiding principles.

During the Gove era, Labour seemed to fall apart.  My experience supporting the Labour policy machine was frustrating; the politics of opposition is horrible.  In truth, Labour allowed Gove to dominate the standards agenda; he was allowed to claim the territory as the defender of educational standards.  Labour was paralysed; the push back on EBacc and free schools  was timid and ineffective. For far too long now there has been no coherent Labour narrative or vision for education; there still isn’t. Ed Miliband didn’t have a clue what to say about education; he deserved to lose, depressing as it is to say.

So – now there is the JC phenomenon. Who would have thought! (I voted for Yvette Cooper, mainly after reading this ‘What’s more radical?’ speech.  She doesn’t have the presentational tools needed to make her likeable or sound inspirational but the substance is there.) We need to acknowledge the appeal JC has for those who love him. It’s impressive.  I’ve seen him in operation first hand. As the local MP for my school he has popped in and wowed the students (and staff), he’s written letters in support of some of my students (querying various behaviour policy enforcement matters); he has the ability to strike up a rapport with young idealistic people; he speaks with passion, authority and sincerity….

BUT it’s simply not enough.

The Corbyn policy collection seems more backward looking than forward-looking. What is a National Education Service? Why is he so conflicted on Brexit and so luke warm on the single market? Why does he have so much faith in the economics of John McDonnell?  How would nationalised railways improve the service? There’s no evidence to suggest we’d have better trains – I remember the British Rail of the 70s. I remember British Leyland. His handling of his anti-Israel pro-Palestine position is hugely frustrating; he’s not a racist man but to invite so much hate, so many accusations is something he brings on himself in this area.  This wouldn’t happen if he was the skilful world leader we need him to be.  He plays with fire; that’s his style. But that’s no use; it doesn’t win the argument or allow progress to be made.

Above all of this, my killer concern is his capacity for people management. We’re not voting for someone to run the social justice film night at the student union. Or to stage manage a mass Fight the Power demo or to be President of a small island.  But that’s how he comes across . Being PM requires some skilful political know-how that includes alternating between building consensus with people you disagree with and commanding authority, enforcing party discipline as circumstances demand – much like any leadership role. JC doesn’t seem to be able to manage either within the PLP.  I’ve been quite shocked by all the tales of poor communication with MPs and shadow ministers and flaky decision-making.  Beyond a very small inner circle (is that the best front bench Labour has to offer?) JC doesn’t seem to be able or willing to communicate; even with those who want to support him.

The attempted coup and this election wouldn’t have happened if JC had the skills needed to lead a party within our parliamentary system. Even though I might like him on a personal level and admire his achievement in mobilising impressive levels of support amongst a subsection of the electorate; even if I agreed with every word he said on policy it wouldn’t matter because JC’s shortcomings mean he can never be an effective PM.  It’s all for nothing. In truth, we’re not even putting up a decent fight in Opposition. It feels like a shambles; incoherent, desperate and actually distinctly lacking the ‘kinder politics’ we were promised.

I find the online discourse around this election utterly depressing. If you don’t support JC you are a Tory. Or ‘Tory scum’. But I’m not a Tory; nor was Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Yvette Cooper. There’s a lack of respect for Labour’s past success and legacy that is hard to understand. It’s as if making some compromises and winning is somehow seen as selling out; too many on the left are more comfortable protesting rather than shouldering the responsibility of power. (This has been said by many many people…)

It’s a depressing state of affairs; I’m pretty much resigned to a 20 year stretch of Tory rule; boundary changes will bang in the final nails in the coffin of Labour’s electoral chances for  the next generation.

So – Why Owen Smith? In all honestly, the only reason is that he is not JC. I hadn’t even heard of Owen Smith before he put him self forward for the Labour leadership – and I read the Guardian! I would rather be voting for Angela Eagle (who capitulated way too easily in my view.)   But, given the choice on the ballot paper, in voting for OS, my hope is that JC – who is extremely unlikely to lose at this stage – has a smaller winning majority and wakes up to the need to talk to a broader range of people – including those  who have previously succeeded in putting Labour ideas into action as policy.

One major question for me is ‘where are all the big hitters?’  I can’t help but think we’ve got a raft of serious potential leaders all sitting on their hands hoping to swing into action as the Great Saviour once we’ve wallowed in the post-Corbyn wreckage for long enough and the centre left has woken itself up. Perhaps they’re not risking being taken down too early in this wasteland election. Maybe they’re right to do this (hanging back for a decade or so??) but it feels rather cowardly.  Step up people!

At least we have Sadiq Khan. He is flying the flag for pragmatic principled disciplined centre-left politics; he won; he’s doing things. He’s putting Labour ideals into practice. That’s radical and inspiring enough for anyone.  JC could learn a thing or two from him.

Discussion

10 thoughts on “I voted for Owen Smith. Here’s why.

  1. Lots of salient points alongside many too easily countered – we could go on and on, so let’s not. I agree. It’s a shambles but not simply caused by JC and whatever his shortfalls may be as a potential world leader. Conspiring to overthrow an elected leader is symptomatic of PLP in disarray. This is sadly reflected in Scotland where Labour are dead having been the strongest contender to SNP with an historic and honourable past. Sadly, their demise has been precisely because of the centrist pro- Westminster stance. This may well have got them into power in the first place but was the opportunity taken to drive the social justice agenda? Absolutely not. New Labour was a branch of the centre right not left and that’s what has seen it renamed the Red Tories in Scotland losing 40+ seats.

    While nobody really knows how JC may develop or even if he is the right person at all, the questions we should be asking are around our main societal problems not whether or not the political flavour suits (i.e. centre right centre left, midfield, etc). As you rightly say, Labour didn’t exactly get education policy right when in power – they, it could be argued, started the mess were in now.

    Whilst I agree with much of what is said here (and disagree in almost equal quantity) the party needs to decide if it is a social democrat organisation or if it – like the great Tony Benn – will seek to build a party focussed on social justice.

    It brings with it great frustration which would be alleviated were the PLP to bring honesty and integrity into the domain instead of cloak and dagger attacks and almost unequivocal support/collusion with mainstream media propaganda. PLP have only themselves to blame but it’s loyal Labour members who are going to suffer.

    Like

    Posted by bocks1 | September 14, 2016, 6:35 am
    • I think it’s the country that suffers. Labour members will choose a leader that will never change the country. A central paradox that members have to face. I think a lot of JC loyalists would also be deeply exasperated if they were MPs trying to win the election. Let’s see….

      Like

      Posted by Tom Sherrington | September 14, 2016, 7:21 am
  2. Totally agree with everyting you say here Tom! It really is more than a little depressing to think that the rest of my working life in education will be under Tory rule! We’ll survive though by putting our children and staff first! As for the country, well………………………….

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Richard Thorpe | September 14, 2016, 11:11 am
  3. Tom, I completely agree with your analysis. I too voted for Owen Smith. I was working in Basildon when Neil Kinnock lost and I have dark memories of the wilderness years when Thatcher held sway. I am depressed at the prospect of another decade or so of Tory rule under a government bent on destroying all the gains made in education under Labour. Remember when reforms were well thought through, engaged the brightest and radical educationalists and allowed teachers to engage with reforms with reasonable time to implement and embed changes? Seems like a life time away!!Let’s have a Labour leader who will engage in a debate with a wider electorate and who gives the party a reasonable chance of winning the only popular mandate that counts – a national election!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Philomena Cozens | September 14, 2016, 4:56 pm
  4. I used to be a party member but am no longer having become disillusioned with it all. The party has become too metropolitan, too Londoncentric and too dominated by the unelectable hard-left. The mindset of opposition seems to have taken over.

    Like

    Posted by D | September 15, 2016, 12:19 pm
  5. Thank you for sharing this

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Claire | September 15, 2016, 7:44 pm
  6. I support Corbyn. On the evidence of his policies.

    I will not vote for a party that does not vote against Tory welfare cuts for one. Corbyn and McDonell were two of only 11 MPs who voted against the bombing of Libya, which is rapidly turning into something as bad as Iraq – so much for progress and learning lessons.

    Labour ARE Tory lite now. They will do nothing to help working and non-working people. Those days are gone.

    I could go on but I’ll save us all some time…

    Like

    Posted by Gooner | September 16, 2016, 3:45 pm
  7. Maybe you should join the race Tom. Your views on education, in all honesty, blow the politicians out of the water!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Emma Thurston | September 17, 2016, 6:32 am
  8. Blair brought in academies, tuition fees and the illegal Iraq War that has turned the whole region into a basket case of carnage and horror.

    Those things alone are a reason to move on and vote for a different Labour. The New Labour lot were still up for bombing Libya and Syria. Both of which are going very well as a result….

    Corbyn is a dignified man with real values, and a genuine concern for the poorer parts of Britain.

    Like

    Posted by Gooner | September 26, 2016, 10:41 pm

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