This is our truth, tell us yours
For all his faults, Neil Kinnock had roots in the Labour movement, and a traditional route to becoming an MP via the presidency of his students union and organizing for the WEA. To become an MP he had to win over the residents of a constituency wheremining was still an industry and Nye Bevan was a memory within the lived experience of the older members, not just a statue in Cardiff.
Kinnock never quite shook off the slightly beery, pally, aura of a man who had spent too much time in rugby club bars and the lounge of the workingmens club after the bingo on a Saturday night. Where Glenys was serious, passionate, articulate and forensic in her manner Neil was more like one of those bands who substitute volume for style; if Glenys was slightly pretentious, like Scritti Politti or The Beat, Neil was Bad Manners.
The last time I saw Owen Smith speak to a party occasion, in private, alcohol had been taken, and Owen opened up his act with a Neil Kinnock joke.No,not a joke about Neil KInnock, but a joke I first saw Neil Kinnock do in the 1980s. It’s a joke which can have elements of sexism, as embellishments, but it’s also a joke about the contempt in which some Labour people hold the communities they serve. Hearing Smith re-use Kinnock’s old material I was transported back to the 80s, back to a world when Labour outside London was not only unreconstructed but at risk of a demolition order.
Some of the criticism of Owen Smith is overblown, and, frankly, on the spectrum between bad taste and racism. His Welshness appears in criticisms of him at a disproportionate rate, and some of the accusations of inauthenticity are not dissimilar to the same accusations that were aimed at Kinnock. Remember Kinnochio?
It’s not my job to defend either Kinnock, (father or son), or Owen Smith, but there’s a large part of the English based commentariat and media who appear to be unwilling to face up to their own affection for the racist meme about the shifty, inauthentic Welsh trickster who is the flip side of Merlin the shape shifting magician.
Owen Smith became a politician by the common route of today; university, public relations and lobbying, and then the dark arts of amnouvering through the Labour selection process that is,increasingly, closed to anyone who lacks either private funds or sponsors. That route does not make him any more inauthentic than any other politician. TheCorbyn team have been, frankly,appalling in theway they have responded to Smith, behaving as if newer gentler politics was just a catch phrase before the return to the traditional tactics of back stabbing and name calling.
Smith is a poundshop Kinnock not just because he recycles old jokes, or has followed Kinnock’s path of embracing Ni Bevan as if the highwater mark of the British left was somewhere around 1955. The way in which Smith thinks it’s sufficient to praise Bevan, but not to think like him is at the crux of why I describe him as a poundshop Kinnock. Atheart iIt’s the intellectual shallowness of Smith that he most derives from Kinock, and that’s what I object to. His twenty policies are unobjectionable to the point of being commonplace; get three half decent Labour council leaders round a table and something like all twenty policies would emerge, and probably more besides.
Smith’s frequent lapses into the language of the reugby club bar are, on the one hand, funny. He resembles the rugby pundit Jonathan Davies, whose inarticulate lapses into over-reliance on the word bang are the stuff of legend. In a rugby club bar smashing people back on their heels might be the kind of thing you shout at the TV, but it’s no substitute for serious thought. Stavvers dissected Smith and his language here, in what should be the last word on that topic.
For Owen Smith it’s as if the last thirty years have passed him by. All the debates on the left about language, gender and identity have left no mark upon him. The Labour Party deserves better than a Neil Kinnock tribute act. The answer, unfortunately, isn’t Jeremy Corbyn, but it’s not Owen Smith either, and the main question posed by the leadership election is about what must be so wrong with the Labour Party that Smith and Corbyn, the Poundshop equivalents of Kinnock and Foot, are the best and most relevant it can offer.