|Pepsi or the real thing?|
Owen Smith is concerned that a victory for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership contest, coupled with Theresa May’s recent Damascene conversion to socialism, would consign the Labour party to irrelevance. Smith questions why the public would buy May’s “pale facsimile of the Labour Party” instead of the real thing; “Don’t buy Pepsi” he thunders, “buy Coca-Cola”.
The delicious, unwitting irony! For Smith’s attempt to position himself as a “radical” alternative to Jeremy Corbyn is only marginally less ridiculous than May’s endeavours to position the nasty party as the party of social justice. And if, as Smith claims, Jeremy Corbyn is failing to provide a powerful opposition to the Tories, then why are both politicians so keen to plagiarise him?
Like rival Elvis impersonators faithfully copying the King’s lyrics while merely mouthing the words, both May and Smith fail to grasp that most audiences prefer the original. And while Corbyn’s policies may be imitated, his authenticity cannot, for he embodies the ethical principles that he has always espoused, earning him credibility that few politicians today inspire.
Conversely Smith appears incongruent; he claims to want to listen to the grass roots, yet ignores the wishes of the membership; he admires Blair’s policies yet declares himself to be a socialist; he positions himself as anti-austerity yet abstained on the Tories’ brutal welfare bill. Furthermore, his Machiavellian attempts to undermine Corbyn contrast starkly with Corbyn’s dignity and fairness.
We get the measure of politicians from the congruence between their deeds and their words; integrity, consistency and genuine conviction all matter. To paraphrase Bevan, Smith’s recently acquired boyhood hero, listening to Smith is like “paying a visit to Woolworth’s: everything in its place and nothing above sixpence”.
First published on The Independent letters page