By Jeremy Dewar OWEN SMITH is the candidate chosen by Labour’s rebel right wing MPs to stand against Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. Many party activists asked, “Owen who?”, so low was his profile when his bid was announced in July. His choice sums up just how cynical and bankrupt the right wing of the party are.
Their strategy was to find some one who was a political blank slate, able to pose as someone “as radical as Jeremy Corbyn” but, unlike Jeremy, someone who can win the next general election.
Smith’s record reveal just how bogus his left claims are. Before he became the MP for Pontypridd in 2010, Smith was a senior lobbyist for big pharmaceutical companies Amgen and before that Pfizer. It has been well documented how these multinational companies bleed the NHS dry through their monopoly over new drugs, preventing as far as possible cheaper generic versions reaching the market.
Yet when he was a lobbyist, he supported private companies cherry-picking NHS services for profit: “Where they can bring good ideas, where they can bring valuable services… then I think that’s fine.” Even when in doing so, they bankrupt hospitals and NHS Trusts?
Likewise, Owen was once a supporter of the Private Finance Initiatives, which charge the NHS between three and five times the actual costs for building and running hospitals, which are now sinking in debt. But Smith is on the record as saying: “What people want to see are more hospitals, better services…. I’m not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances that get read into some of these things, and I think sometimes they are totally overblown.”
Yet Smith now claims that Nye Bevan is his hero and the NHS is Labour’s biggest achievement. Is it really an “ideological nuance” that has pushed the NHS into the biggest financial crisis of its life and caused far more deaths than the junior doctors’ strikes ever could?
The same inconsistencies appear on all the other major issues.
On austerity, last September Smith openly supported the idea of individual benefit caps, which are driving families out of their homes and far away from their friends, families and in some cases jobs. Two months earlier, following Harriet Harman, he abstained on the Welfare Reform Bill, which drove up to 330,000 vulnerable families into deeper destitution.
On the war preparations our rulers are making he supports the renewal of Trident, wasting billions on nuclear weapons that tie us to the USA and could lead to millions of innocent people’s deaths. He voted for the bombing of Syria. Though not an MP at the time Smith thought Blair’s invasion of Iraq stood in the “noble, valuable tradition” of removing dictators.
In short, Smith is a faker. He is not Corbyn-lite, but (if it can be imagined) Kinnock-lite: an unprincipled maneuverer who, once in office, would steer the party firmly back in the direction of austerity, privatisation and war, while purging Labour’s left wing.
The millionaire-owned media outlets (and the BBC) refuse to put him on the spot over his uncosted spending plans, his sexist gaffes or even his proposal to get round the table with ISIS. Imagine the uproar if Corbyn said any of these things.
His ties to the right wing are there for all to see. His former employer Pfizer has given a small fortune to right wing Labour group Progress, the Blairite party-within-a-party behind the coup against Jeremy. His election would be a disaster.