I’m normally a pretty passive viewer of BBC Question Time. And I’d rarely reach the point of shouting at the TV. But Owen Smith’s behaviour at the Labour leadership debate on 8 September was so shocking that I couldn’t help it.
His performance was a perfect demonstration of why a win for his campaign would come as such a massive surprise.
Here are the four key character traits – visible on Question Time – that have become such a losing combination for Smith:
During the debate, Smith once again insisted that Labour’s current polling results are so dismal because of the current leader Jeremy Corbyn, even though the evidence suggests otherwise.
In recent months, there have generally been around 30% of voters planning to go with Labour at the next elections. And before the EU referendum, Labour was a real contender for the most popular party in the UK, pulling ahead of the Conservatives on three occasions in March and April.
Corbyn and his supporters continue to insist on the fact that the Conservatives have only steamed ahead of Labour in the last two months as a result of the post-referendum parliamentary coup against Corbyn. The polling statistics clearly back this assertion up. But Owen Smith is sticking to his lie – sorry, ‘line’.
Smith has also jumped on the Labour coup bandwagon of smearing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as antisemites. The idea that Corbyn has been weak on dealing with Labour supporters or members responsible for allegedly antisemitic comments has been repeated time and again by his detractors, with little to no evidence. And this is in spite of the fact that Corbyn continues to stress, as he did on Question Time, that:
Antisemitism is absolutely and totally unacceptable anywhere in our society, anywhere in our party, anywhere in our world…
We have to say to everyone in the Labour Party: ‘This is a safe place to be… [for] people of all faiths, of all religions…’
But Smith kept running with his smear attempt.
When Corbyn said both he and Smith could agree on cutting down on antisemitism, the leadership challenger said:
We are agreed, but I’m not sure you’re entirely committed to it, Jeremy.
To which Corbyn responded:
I have spent my life opposing racism in any form…
Ignoring this, and backing up Smith’s smears, one audience member then alleged that Corbyn “supports groups such as Hamas”. Corbyn swiftly responded:
No, I do not support Hamas. You know that.
But will Corbyn’s clear and firm statements stop the slurs against him? Probably not.
Asked if they would serve under their competitors if they won the leadership election, Smith and Corbyn had very different answers. While the current leader said he’d be “delighted” to do so, Smith didn’t. He may love to talk about ‘unifying’ the party, but he once again insisted that he’d refuse to serve under Corbyn if he remains party leader.
In other words, party unity is great, but only if those who think like Smith are in charge.
When an audience member called him out on this contradictory promise of both unity and disunity, saying “You’re in the wrong party!”, Smith slammed the man for his “abuse”. (The exact whereabouts of that “abuse” seem only to have been visible to Smith himself.)
The Canary has long challenged the charge of media and political elites that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable. But that’s not the question here.
Owen Smith consistently says that he’d be a better Labour leader because he is ‘more electable’ than Corbyn. But there are significant reasons to believe he’s not.
Apart from speaking of the need to target Tory voters (24% of eligible voters) rather than the 76% who didn’t vote Tory in 2015, Smith also spoke on 8 September about his apparent desire to alienate the 52% of voters who chose to leave the EU back in June. In both aspects, then, it appears his electability plan is to appeal to the minority.
For Smith, the Brexit vote should effectively be ignored, and there would be another referendum vote if he were in charge of the Labour Party.
But the Question Time audience didn’t seem best pleased with his plans to shun the recent democratic decision to leave the EU.
Do non-Labour voters prefer Corbyn?
This is an important question to ask, and the jury is clearly still out. But in the meantime, I did a small opinion poll. And while it was nothing like the well-performed and much more scientific polls consistently misinterpreted by Owen Smith, it was revealing.
The first non-Labour voters I spoke to after the Question Time debate both said they’d prefer Corbyn (if they had to choose, of course – which was a particularly difficult prospect for one Tory voter).
A Liberal Democrat voter I spoke to said the following of Corbyn:
I think he’s a more genuine person… The issue that would have swayed me was their attitude to nuclear weapons because I completely get Jeremy Corbyn’s logic. I don’t think that building more weapons is going to reduce the threat… I just think it’s completely rubbish and counterproductive…
Their attitude to the referendum is also key. We’ve got to go with what we’ve got now, and ensure environmental concerns, workers’ rights, and all the things Corbyn said. I think it’s not respecting the democratic process just to go and have another referendum, and I don’t think many people really want that.
A Conservative voter, meanwhile, said:
The only strength for Owen Smith is that he isn’t Jeremy Corbyn, which will stand him in good stead in parliament, potentially, but would actually count against him with the country, because I think Corbyn can get more votes than Owen Smith…
I think that Owen Smith has shot himself massively in the foot by saying that, if he was prime minister, he would take us back into the European Union, because that fails to recognise that a good number of Labour voters – and a lot of former Labour voters who voted for UKIP – would disagree there…
Jeremy Corbyn was Jeremy Corbyn… He stuck to his principles… If I was a Labour supporter, I’d rather have his principles, even if I disagreed with him.
For some viewers, then, Corbyn does seem to be coming out on top in the race against Owen Smith. And his Question Time performance has only helped that cause, while revealing once again the undesirable traits of Smith and his campaign of deception and double-speak.
See the full debate below:
– Watch BBC’s Question Time from 8 September.
– Read more from The Canary about the leadership election.
Featured image via YouTube