Alas Smith and Jones – the two Owens. That’s why I keep confusing their surnames. It doesn’t help that the Englishman has the Welsh surname and the Welshman has the English one. Yes, that’s how instantly forgettable the man who believes he can topple Jezza really is, that I confuse him with the baby-faced media socialist from ‘The North’ whenever he crops up in conversation. Anyway, let’s get the trivial factors out of the way.
Owen Smith looks like one of those half-dozen contenders who are first to throw their hat into the ring when there’s a leadership vacancy, the one nobody’s ever heard of, the one who’s there to make up the numbers; only, he isn’t Stephen Crabb. He didn’t drop out before a single vote had been cast. Now that Angela Eagle has returned to the charisma factory she was manufactured in, Owen Smith is the sole contender for Corbyn’s hollow crown. Unlike the Christian Tory who believes homosexuality is a curable illness but ‘sexting’ somebody who isn’t one’s spouse is permissible, Owen Smith doesn’t even have a ridiculous claim to fame. I can’t get worked up about what a nonentity he is. When I see Donald Trump and his supporters, I see a Nuremberg Rally; I feel like I’m looking at Hitler on a cinema newsreel in the 30s and I shudder because I know what comes next. When I see Owen Smith, I see the bloke behind the building society counter asking me if I’ve ever considered a credit card when I’m withdrawing my last four-and-a half quid.
Lest we forget, however, he is normal – as he emphasised when launching his pitch this week. He’s got a wife and kids and has already raffled them as political collateral before the cameras. Angela Eagle, AKA ‘Mrs Civil Partnership’, can’t do that, can she? He’s Welsh, of course – just like his hero Nye Bevan; funny how that particular Welsh Labour name keeps cropping up in the same sentence as Smith, rather than Neil Kinnock (Once elected as an MP with a Welsh constituency, Smith at least made sure he quickly relocated to the Land of his Fathers from Surrey). As an orator and presence, he generates the same kind of confidence in the viewer as Ed Miliband managed so masterfully for five years. Hell, yeah.
The son of a Welsh historian and broadcaster, Smith attended a state school, but his first brush with politics after working both for the BBC and as a lobbyist for a couple of pharmaceutical companies was as a Spad for MP Paul Murphy in his roles as Secretary of State for Wales and then Northern Ireland. His early public pronouncements on all things political included a thumbs-up for the archetypal Blairite project for the NHS, the Private Finance Initiative, as well as initial approval for the invasion of Iraq.
Smith’s eventual entrance into Westminster came via the safe seat of Pontypridd in 2010, and he was made Shadow Secretary for Wales by Ed Miliband in 2012. Jeremy Corbyn gave him the job that bestowed household name status upon him – Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions – after ascending to the Labour leadership last year, a post Smith held until joining the Shadow Cabinet exodus in the wake of the Brexit vote.
As the fusty old Conservative Party elected its second female leader and consequently gave the country a woman as PM for a second time – 2-0, as the late Dave gloated in the Commons – Labour’s alleged reputation as the promoter of minorities and testicle-free individuals has left us once again with a white man challenging a white man for the top job. And Smith wants Claus IV reborn, incorporating a pledge to tackle inequality into the party’s constitution; not applicable where the party’s leadership is concerned, apparently. According to Smith himself, he shares many of Corbyn’s core values; if that’s the case, what’s the point in replacing Jezza as leader with someone who oozes even less charm and personality than the bearded wonder? Isn’t the aim of a potential new leader to distinguish himself from the man he hopes to succeed? Theresa May seems to have taken that on board in record time.
The hustings begin in a couple of days, with the promise of some truly electrifying platform performances from the secular Ayatollah who could fart into a microphone and still elicit euphoric adulation from his disciples, and from the challenger about whom it’s physically, mentally and medically impossible to get remotely excited. Both are supporting cast members; neither are leading men. And yet, top of the bill is exactly what they’re fighting for. Who will be Prime Minister if a General Election is called in the autumn or the spring? I’ll wager she’ll have a penchant for kitten heels. Who will be Leader of the Opposition? Which Opposition is that, then?
© The Editor