Owen Smith is the Labour MP for Pontypridd, former Shadow Secretary of State for Wales under Ed Miliband, and was appointed as the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in September by Jeremy Corbyn. After hearing endless good things about him from members on all sides of the party, I asked to interview him and he was happy to oblige, so I thought I'd report back on what I heard, because there are a lot of negative articles about the Labour party at the moment, and we could all do with a bit more positivity and hope.
Owen is currently working on the campaign to stop the cuts to universal credit, stating that George Osborne is "giving with one hand and taking with the other." He tells me that "by 2020, 2.6 million people will be £1,600 on average worse off." And that it is "a classic bit of smoke and mirrors from George Osborne - but he's been found out, and I intend to make sure that everybody knows he has been found out." Here lies the focus that sums up Owen's role in his shadow cabinet position so far, holding the Tories to account. You name it - Owen has held them to account on it, the bedroom tax, job cuts for benefit staff, benefit sanctions, child poverty, funding cuts for disabled students, housing benefit cuts, the list goes on. We saw it most predominantly in the campaign to stop the cuts to tax credits and it's clearly something he's rather good at.
Arguably, unity is one of the areas that Labour is struggling with the most at the moment, and on this Owen's words will resonate with many, he states:
"We've got to remember that we've always understood that there is strength in unity - whether that is men and women standing together in the teeth of unfair employers and practices, or whether that is men and women standing together in order to exercise democratic control over big forces whether those are government or corporate. The eternal truth that we've always understood in the Labour Party is that we are stronger together, by our common endeavour we achieve far more than we ever can alone, and that has to apply internally in the Labour Party as well. If we are divided, and if we appear divided, then we will be defeated. And therefore if we are to be victorious and deliver what we want for the people we represent then we've got to be united , and that's got to be right in the forefront of all of our minds."
On what he thinks of the Tories claiming that they are the party of working people:
"If the Tories were the party of working people, then they wouldn't be acting as they did on tax credits and as they are doing on universal credit to take money directly out of the pockets of hard working people, people on low and middle incomes. I think if they were the party of working people, they would appreciate that they needed a long term industrial strategy to make sure that the next generation of workers in this country were able to enjoy the benefits of my generation. I think if they were the party of working people, they would be making sure that they protected our young people who were at work through extending to them the new national living wage, for all of those reasons I think that there is a massive gap between the rhetoric from the Tories and the reality. And it is risible, it's laughable, that the Tories should try and describe themselves as the party of working people; they only do it because they think it's a clever plan to steal Labour's clothes... The Tories have never been the party of working people and they never will be."
What are the three most important things that he thinks Labour should be campaigning on?
1. "For a reversal of the cut to universal credit."
2. " For fairness in the way in which we go about reducing the deficit"
3. "For economic credibility for Labour. We've got to get the deficit down, we've got to make sure that we do that fairly, and we've got to win economic credibility by describing how Labour wants to transform our economy, how we're going to reform the social security system, how we're going to reform tax and benefits."
Owen thinks that "if we can do those three key things and illustrate that we've got a plan, we've got a fair way to get down the deficit and we've got an idea on what sort of working Britain we want to build then we can win back trust and we can win."
Owen Jones described him as "arguably the most impressive media performer of the Corbyn era "and it's easy to see why, he doesn't just make broad statements without evidence - he backs up each point he makes with strong facts and relevant examples, making him very difficult to argue against and an absolute nightmare for the Tory MPs he is put up against in media debates. He does something that Labour has to do to win, he takes away the credibility of the Tories and comes across as the more competent, credible, and fair alternative - and he does it well.
Notably, Owen did not back Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party, (his preference was, like me, Andy Burnham) but that would be hard to tell from his performance so far, and in fact, a large amount of praise for him seems to come from Corbynites who admire his unwavering loyalty and commitment to the Labour cause. He has spent every single minute of media airtime he has been given since September 12th shedding light on what the Tories, in particular Iain Duncan Smith, are doing, with not a bad word said about his leader or his party. In fact, if you tried to evaluate Owen's position in the party since September 12th you would find it very difficult to conclude anything apart from the fact that he is simply Labour, through and through. All that comes across about Owen's stance is that he passionately wants what every Labour member wants: A Labour government in 2020, an end to harmful and backwards Tory rule, and a better vision for the future of Britain that comes from our core Labour values and goals.
You get the feeling that he's got the right idea about how to go about it too, unity, economic credibility, and using the evidence to expose the Tories for what they are and hold them to account, demonstrating to the British people that we are a government in waiting. Whether you agree with his approach or not, it's hard not to have respect for it, and I think we can all learn something from Owen Smith - I certainly did.
My full interview with Owen Smith can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rw7mqAflwzw