In my recent post about where Labour’s votes could come from in the next general election, I tried to keep clear of factional arguments about the current leadership election. I think that the argument that Tory votes are not required is strong enough under whichever leader.
Both Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn say they support solidly centre-left policies, and that argument is a good base on which to build and campaign for such policies.
Smith again repeated his claim that “the way we win is by getting people who voted Tory to vote Labour at the next election” (from 15:30 in the recording).
Yes, OK, as we discussed last time that is one possible way to win an election.
But how can Smith square that with the area in which he draws the clearest policy distinction with Corbyn: his pledge to “stay within the European Union”? (19 minutes in.)
With Smith this position has taken a few forms, but usually a pledge to hold a second referendum on EU membership once the terms of leaving are settled, or a general election with the Labour Party campaigning on a position of remaining within the EU.
With Labour voters, in this leadership election, that is a fair tactical position. About two thirds of people who voted Labour at the 2015 general election voted to remain in the EU. So if your audience is Labour members, it’s a position that may find some sympathy.
The situation is reversed with Conservative voters, with nearly three fifths voting to leave.
So Smith’s pledge to Remain is (potentially) popular with the people who would make him Labour leader, but unpopular with the people who he says Labour needs to win a general election.
To my knowledge, Smith hasn’t said how he plans to resolve that contradiction. But I imagine that it might be insoluble. His view that a majority of voters were suckered by a Leave campaign that was “clearly a lie” (23:40) may not help him.
Consider these exchanges, from about 24 minutes:
David Dimbleby: “Unless I misunderstood you, you said you would like to see Labour go into the next election saying: ‘Our party policy is to go back into the EU’.”
Dimbleby: “To ignore the Brexit vote?”
Smith: “I think … well, exactly!”
Smith: “We need to find out what it [the Brexit settlement] is.”
And shortly after:
Dimbleby: “Did you vote for the referendum … to happen?”
Smith: “Yes, we all voted for it.”
Dimbleby: “And you don’t accept the result?”
Smith: “No, my view is that we don’t know what we were voting for. We were lied to about about the £350 million. We were clearly lied to.”
Now, the Vote Leave group did make a series of ludicrous promises. They were denounced as ludicrous during the campaign. You can argue over the extent to which people might have believed them. But to argue that the majority vote to leave was predicated on Vote Leave’s claims is as ludicrous as the claims themselves.
What emerges is Smith’s view that the people who voted to leave were too stupid to realise the implications of what they were voting for. Again, I’m not sure that rejecting the choice of the people you want to target at the next general election, saying it was made in ignorance, is going to win these people over.