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Why I Am Backing Owen Smith to Be the New Leader of the Labour Party

28/07/2016 16:30 | Updated 28 July 2016

After the banking collapse of 2008 we did not see a single banker in this country being prosecuted for wrecking our economy. We simply saw our economy shrink as our bankers were bailed out with their bonuses still in their hands. As my generation realised they may never own a home, we watched oligarchs turn our property market into a play-thing for profit. While the old were offered tax breaks and pension increases, the young have been handed tuitions fees so high that some will never see the day they pay it off. My generation will be the first to earn less than our parents' generation and we saw this coming. In a world increasingly unequal, we find ourselves to be the losers.

Our trust in our political class and our institutions has never been lower. Today it's not just the poorest in society who are bitter and feel cut adrift. We now find our young professionals and university graduates seeing an uneasy future ahead of them. No one can understand the rise of Jeremy Corbyn without understanding the world of the millennials. My friends have thrown support around him with a Christ-following fervour. To them he is a symbol of defiance against an 'establishment' that they feel has let them down.

Many of Jeremy Corbyn's followers will wear their leftism proudly on their sleeve. They'll be anti-racism, anti-war, anti-poverty and anti-cuts. Yet I believe many of these supporters will end up feeling more disillusioned and disaffected in years to come. There will come a time when his followers slowly realise that no march, no rally, will be big enough to seismically shift the balance of power in our society. If you're a member of the Labour Party you understand that the way in which we change the lives of millions is through elected representation in Parliament and winning enough seats to form a government. As the most unpopular leader among the electorate this country has every known, and with a vast majority of the parliamentary party having no faith in his ability, winning an election is something Jeremy Corbyn will be be unable to achieve.

Corbyn has proved that he does not have the skills, knowledge and flexibility to run a parliamentary party. He has no experience of cabinet office or developing and implementing policies within government. His Shadow Cabinet and the majority of Labour MPs have tried to make this work with Corbyn but behind close doors ministers were repeatedly complaining about being left in the dark on the leadership's stance on certain topics. Time and time again they have faced a leader with his office door locked. His treatment of colleagues (only coming into the public now) such as Thangam Debbonaire and Conor McGinn was shambolic to the point of disgrace.

You may deeply admire the principles and convictions of Jeremy Corbyn but his actions over the last 10 months has shown a man who is unable and unwilling to learn how to communicate with, listen to and persuade people with whom he doesn't already agree. He has a great ability to connect with those who already share his world view, and this is why he has energised our Labour members with such aplomb. Yet the Labour Party can only succeed as a Parliamentary force if it is able to reach beyond its membership base and connect with voters from all tribes.

For his shadow cabinet, those who had tried to make it work for the greater good of the Labour Party, it was the EU referendum campaign that was the final straw. Three weeks before polling day, a campaign memo from Britain Stronger In Europe showed that only about half of Labour voters realised their party was in favour of staying in the EU, with the rest thinking it was split or believing it was a party of Brexit. It also said that most Labour voters either did not know what Jeremy Corbyn thought, or believed he was for Remain but "his heart isn't in it".

Corbyn's campaigning for Remain in the EU referendum was so incoherent and halfhearted that even his shadow cabinet colleagues doubted he was voting IN. I had my doubts too. Shortly after the referendum Jeremy Corbyn called for the immediate triggering of Article 50. He did this without any discussion with the Shadow Cabinet or the Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party. The only other politician who called for the immediate triggering of Article 50 was Nigel Farage. I feel this tells you its own story. Our MPs kept hearing from our voters the same message, "but your leader wants out, doesn't he?". Our voters are often more perceptive than those who are most invested in our cause.

Our country is deeply divided, and there are 48% of us bitterly reeling from the outcome of a EU referendum marked by bigotry and mis-truths. Theresa May has now handed the Brexit negotiation to an energised Tory-Right. It is now more crucial than ever that the Labour Party is a strong, united and avidly pro-European force in British politics again. Under Corbyn, I doubt we will be able to be the Parliamentary voice for Remainers and progressives that this country deserves.

What Jeremy Corbyn has achieved is shifting the debate within the Labour Party. The one competitor for the leadership Owen Smith, is now standing on an fervently anti-austerity ticket. Corbyn made our PLP wake up to fact that we had a membership crying out for something more radical, something that drew a clear line between us and the Tories. For too long our MPs held a 'we know best' attitude to our members but finally they are listening. Our membership voted overwhelmingly for Remain and want a leader who will fight Brexit with a clear and committed stance. Owen Smith has committed Labour to fighting for a second referendum on ratifying any Brexit deal May's government strikes with the EU.

Corbyn did not lose the support of his shadow cabinet, his policy advisors and economic advisors on ideological grounds. They simply knew that under Corbyn's leadership, Labour could not be a credible parliamentary force. Slogans, gestures and fantastic rallies are simply not enough if you want your principles to be acted upon. Smith has learnt from Corbyn's mistakes and has come up with policies to back up his rhetoric and has a united parliamentary party behind him.

Anger at injustice is not enough. Opposing capitalism for the sake of the oppressed but having no coherent plan or policies, or a way in which to connect these ideas with the electorate as a whole, will not be enough for us to see the change we want. This is not about personalities, but about making steps towards rebuilding a Labour Party that can work effectively as an opposition in Parliament. A Labour Party that understands that a 'social movement' 11 points down in the polls is nothing but a cruel joke on those whose lives are hurt most by austerity. This is why I am backing Owen Smith to be the leader of the Labour Party. Let's unite and rebuild this Party. 

An expanded version of this blog is available here.

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