Labourcoup, latest, UK

Game of Knowns

by W Stephen Gilbert


How about a game of let’s pretend. Say that Owen Smith gets to make the Leader’s Speech at the Conference on the 28th. I know, but just say. What nobody but me says aloud (but everyone thinks) will start to be said out loud: “Owen Smith is unelectable”.

If Smith thinks he can lead Labour to victory in the 2020 general election, he is, to use the word he threw at Jeremy Corbyn, “delusional”. Smith doesn’t have the repertoire to enthuse the electorate. He’s erratic, earnest, voluble without saying anything arresting, malleable and lightweight. Theresa May would eat him for breakfast.

And here’s something else that nobody mentions but everybody knows: he’s Welsh. The fact is that, to make a sweeping generalisation, the English hate The Welsh. In just the same way, equally crudely but with a germ of truth, the Scots hate the English. (The Welsh appear not to hate anybody, though they’re understandably suspicious of the English). But I suspect that it would be very hard for a Welsh leader of any party to become Prime Minister. Oh, I know about Lloyd George, but that was before the 24-hour news cycle. Most people wouldn’t have known him if he passed them in the street. (Nobody would know Owen Smith if he passed them in the street, come to that).

Smith has no particular policy programme so he’s tried to position himself on the left, imagining that he can attract the hundreds of thousands of Corbyn supporters who, in his imaginary world, don’t think Corbyn is up to the job. The crucial difference, though, is that when Corbyn proposes policies like that people believe him. When Smith proposes them, people just think he’s a chancer.

In any case, if he were elected leader, Smith wouldn’t be able to firm up those policies because most of the parliamentary party don’t support them. If the malcontents all came streaming back to the front bench, boosted by the makeup of the shadow cabinet being elected by the PLP, Smith would have his hands tied just as much as those who proposed the return of an elected shadow cabinet intended to tie Corbyn’s hands. So either he would have to retreat, which would scupper whatever credibility he had left, or – the more likely eventuality – he would be dumped in favour of Dan Jarvis next Spring.

Meanwhile, the 300,000 who have joined Labour since Corbyn was first elected leader would leave. They would know that Socialism has no future in the present Labour party. They also wouldn’t vote for Labour under Smith or Jarvis. Despite their subscription fees, their door-knocking skills, their crowd-swelling numbers, their extraordinary enthusiasm and their votes that gave Labour healthy results in local elections and national and local by-elections over the last 18 months, they would have discovered that they were not wanted by the Labour party. So the next Labour leader would have a much smaller demographic to try to call on in order to get into Downing Street: basically, disillusioned centrists. Good luck with that.

When Corbyn is confirmed as leader, the malcontents will find that they have painted themselves into an impossible position. They will have failed dismally in an initiative designed to force Corbyn from office. They will have demonstrated in the most unmistakable manner that they are profoundly out of touch with the membership of the party. They will have to accept or reject the calls for unity that Corbyn will be entirely justified in making and neither option offers them any comfort. If they prevail in their attempt to reinstate shadow cabinet elections, they will face the embarrassment that many of them have already committed to refusing to serve under Corbyn, thus rendering those elections meaningless.

What’s more, Corbyn will have a mandate to impose discipline. Many of his supporters will be up in arms if he does not begin a programme of deselection. He will have every reason to implement it. What’s more, I believe that he should make it a deselecting offence for any MP to argue that Labour cannot win the next election. It’s hard to imagine a claim that is more subversive of the party’s chances. Corbyn’s enemies like to point to the opinion poll findings as if somehow those only reflect the standing of Corbyn himself, as if their own daily decrying of Labour’s chance has absolutely no effect on the electorate’s view of the party as a winning team. Corbyn, they must accept, is very electable.

Which is where we came in.


  1. BigB says

    JC – the second coming – only two hours to wait!

  2. It is an indication of how far Labour has sunk,when the likes Owen Smith are selected as an MP representing working people.
    Smith looks like what he is – a corporate lobbyist spiv, a rung below second hand car dealers and barristers, in the trustworthy and electability ladder.

  3. The reason so many scream that Corbyn is unelectable is that, secretly, they believe he IS. And the thought of a genuine socialist Labour Party terrifies them right down to their despicable Thatcherite-Blairite boots.

  4. chrisb says

    The only way that Labour can heal its divisions is if a successor to Corbyn emerges who has both the Left-wing credentials to garner support form the Corbynistas and the leadership and organisational skills that Corbyn lacks. If such an individual emerges, then the PLP might hold their noses at the policy choices and get behind a person who could fight a campaign that will at least save their seats. Can anyone identify this individual? Me neither.

    In that case, Labour’s path is set remorselessly towards deselection battles in 2018 and 2019, with disputes going to the courts even as the national goes to the polling stations.

    Labour’s only chance of winning the 2020 election is a financial crisis.

    • Lumpy Gravy says

      So far Jeremy Corbyn has done extremely well as elected leader of the Labour Party, despite unprecedented hostility from the country’s business class and it’s political and media whores. Only his enemies claim he lacks leadership and organisational skills. Are you one of them?

    • bevin says

      Nobody has or possibly could have the “leadership skills” (Christ I detest that jargon) required to turn saboteurs into loyalists. The PLP ‘rebels’ actually have principles and, win or lose they will stick to them: they are imperialists, they are neo-liberals, they believe that democracy is inefficient and outdated and rule by corporate experts is best for capitalism.
      If someone can point out the differences between these politics and fascism I’d be greatly obliged.
      The sooner they leave Labour and search out a base of their own the better it will be for all: the working class has no time for them.
      It elected them on the understanding that these Blairites would actually, in the final analysis, stick up for the needy, the old, the sick and the kids. Even the least politically conscious are getting the message now.

  5. Lumpy Gravy says

    I’m all for Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister but, Labour right-wingers aside, I wonder if this will ever happen, considering sinister elements in the British army have already threatened a coup d’état in this case. I’m also wondering what Jeremy can actually do if he makes it to No.19?

    Will Britain finally get a written national constitution that includes a bill of rights? Most countries in the world have one. Why not Britain?

    Will he initiate a meaningful federalisation of the country that keeps the nation together, instead of Bliar’s fake devolution which has led to the Scottish independence referendum?

    Will he bring the Bank of England and the issuance of currency under government control?

    Will he abolish the City of London (the most crooked place on earth) and make it part of the GLC?

    And what about …
    – the nationalisation of all banks?
    – the outlawing of hedge funds and other dodgy types of investments?
    – the outlawing of speculation with currencies?
    – the outlawing of speculation with vital resources such as grain, food, energy etc.?
    – the nationalization of key industries (water, food, energy, transport, mail, communications etc.)?
    – laws to regulate and tightly control globally operating corporations?
    – tighter regulation and control of all privately owned businesses?
    – steeply progressive income taxes?
    – high taxes on land and property?
    – a cap on inheritance?
    – unemployment benefits and a minimum wage that allow a decent life?
    – unions that are not cuffed by unjust laws?
    – an improved state-funded health system?
    – an improved state-funded pensions system?
    – an improved state-funded education system?
    – etc. etc. etc.

    Does anyone remember this? …

    Let me tell you how it will be
    There’s one for you nineteen for me

    … was George Harrison moaning in 1966 (Taxman) because then there actually existed a peak income tax of 95% for top earners like The Beatles. The example shows that some of the above ‘items’ have already been in existence until not so long ago and I see no reason why over time the entire list (and beyond) couldn’t become a reality in Britain. But I’m wondering if Jeremy can or even wants to do any of this?

    • Lumpy Gravy says

      Oops. Shame there’s no edit button to correct typos. I guess, Jeremy will have to make do with No. 19 then …

    • Lumpy Gravy says

      Corbyn proposes corporate tax rise

      … although rather tame, this is a promising beginning. Now on to the other points on the above list, Jeremy! If you manage to do all of this, working people in Britain (90+ percent of the population) will be eternally grateful to you, the history books will refer to you as The Great Reformer who saved Britain from the abyss of neoliberal dystopia and your name will replace the ghastly Churchill from the number one spot.

  6. BigB says

    I agree with michaelk: Owens job is to weaken – not win. His individual pronouncements betray his real thinking (think anti-BDS; pro-Prevent; Momentum ‘cancer’ etc.) Look at the PLP/NEC attempts to fight the ‘opposition’ (not the real opposition – the ones who are trying to foment WW3!) – think the 120,000 disenfranchised voters; legal battles; purges etc. Nevermind that the public perception is that the party itself is broken and unelectable – I think Jeremy will win but with (as John McDonnell has said) ‘with a reduced mandate.’ This could lead to accusations of diminished poularity (despite the fact that it would have been engineered by the NEC) paving the way for Chicken Coup 2.0 early next year.
    But where I disagree with the article is that “Meanwhile, the 300,000 who have joined Labour since Corbyn was first elected leader would leave” – and go where? I for one believe that Jeremy is (possibly) the last chance (short of non-violent revolution!) that British democracy has. And I for one will fight for that – if only the party will let me in!

  7. Mick McNulty says

    I don’t know if it’s just mischief but apparently Labour’s NEC is warning of possible trouble during the party’s conference next week. Either it’s agitation fodder for the gutter rags to report upon and denounce Jeremy and the Left again, or as somebody suggested maybe they’re stealing the leadership and giving to Owen anyway.

  8. michaelk says

    Owen Smith is a stalking horse. His job is to weaken, or by some miracle, topple Corbyn. Then, post Corbyn, and with his supporters demoralized (which is probably the most important thing), a real electable leader will emerge from the shadows. Someone like… David Miliband perhaps

    • David Miliband?????!!!!!! The man that lost a charisma contest with Ed??!! Christ I wouldn’t want to live in the alternate universe where he’s electable!

  9. bill says

    as control freak extraordinary has said Smith has just been a useful idiot,whilst should the appalling shenanigans actually have made him the winner Labour will be decimated in 2020 and may not ever recover and probably like the Lib Dems wouldnt deserve to

  10. “The English hate the Welsh”. Why spoil a perfectly good article by including a ridiculous and inaccurate generalisation? I’m English and I’ve never hated the Welsh. Why the fuck would I? I might have shared this article, as I do with many by OffGuardian, but I certainly won’t be doing that with yours. The rest was interesting and well-argued.

    • Quite agree: decent enough article that is spoilt by being sloppy – and the guff about Welsh/English is both offensive and irrelevant (I’m Welsh on my father’s side, English on my mother’s). Like some other pieces in OffGuardian, it would benefit from some gentle/supportive editing. My father’s people were miners in Trealaw and would be spinning in their graves at the thought of Smith, Bryant, Kinnock Jnr and the like who now presume to speak for the people of the valleys.

    • Because it’s true. A few years ago, I sat in the kitchen of a friend with a group of a dozen or so people, some gay, some black, all considering themselves enlightened, progressive, media-savvy London types. Suddenly, the talk turned very racist and it was all about the Welsh. Alone, I tried to protest that this was out of order but I was laughed down because none of them thought the Welsh were worthy of taking seriously. There is a deep-rooted prejudice against the Welsh – “Welsh windbags” and all that – in England and it’s idle to pretend it isn’t there just because you don’t share it. Nor do I.

      • 4foxandhare says

        “….. all considering themselves enlightened, progressive, media-savvy London types.”
        Not only racist but delusional.

    • Yeah I found that a bit weird. I’ve have a lot of time for our Welsh brothers and sisters

  11. Generalisations there WSG. I do not hate the Welsh I love them. I don’t hate Owen Smith, I just think he’s a naive egotistical chancer. Kinnock was bullied by the media in the 80s because he talked overly long and had red hair. The red hair was playground bullying stuff. I don’t hate him, but viscerally dislike what he did to the Labour Party-and it seems for personal gain. An arrogant man. But yes. Timely piece. I always thought Smith was ‘unelectable’ and the PLP would not want him if he won. The road ahead is long and hard however. I might write a pieced about wither Momentum? (Not withering) but where it goes next, if at all. Rosie Brocklehurst

    • chrisb says

      One of Kinnock’s problems was that he repeated everything he said at least twice. This is what liars do, as if they are trying to persuade themselves that they are telling the truth. People who are telling the truth just say what they have to say and then stop talking to let others absorb what they have said.

      In no way am I suggesting that Kinnock’s opponents weren’t lying. It’s just that they were much better at it.

  12. 4foxandhare says

    Thank you. I needed a good laugh this morning as I’m off to the hospital for an operation to have a Non-melananoma skin cancer removed This made me lol.

Comments are closed.