Thursday, 4 August 2016

Thoughts on Labour Cardiff leadership competition hustings

While, unfortunately, not a lot of new information was presented in these hustings it rather sums up how the debate has gone in general thus far. It is telling that the hashtag "#IAgreeWithJeremy" has been trending for a couple of hours now as primarily that was the theme of the debate. To understand this, you have to understand the history of the competition  as it started out with a leadership coup - a deliberate attempt to force Jeremy Corbyn to resign through media smears and coordinated resignations. Smith's attempts to emulate Corbyn's policies in this light come across as a cynical attempt to convert Corbyn supporters as Corbyn is currently set to win the leadership contest by a landslide just as he did last year. So from this point on-wards I will focus on the differences between the two candidates:

The EU was a primary point on which the candidates disagreed. Corbyn is of the opinion that we should respect the outcome of the brexit referendum whereas Smith believes that we should hold a second referendum with the option of pulling out before triggering article 50. While many of us were pro-remain (including myself) there are a few issues with Smith's stance - primarily if he is talking about a snap election (which is highly speculatory in itself), it's worth noting that two thirds of constituencies across the UK voted  to leave. Unfortunately this means that in the context of a general election, the single most divisive subject in recent political history will be significantly stacked against Labour simply because of the first past the post electoral system. The other issue that I have with it is that I believe Smith must know this - he also knows that whether or not to respect the referendum is a divisive issue in the Labour party. This is a classic "wedge" strategy, designed to split the pro-Corbyn vote. In light of all this, I am strongly of the opinion that Labour is much better positioned, in the context of a snap election, to campaign on a platform of ensuring and even improving worker's rights and providing a substantial fiscal stimulus to offset the negative financial aspects of the referendum.

There are other points of contention over Brexit such as the controversial TTIP trade deal which, in a leaked draft which was published on the BBC website, indicated that certain public health services including hospitals, if they have been privatised, effectively cannot be brought back into public ownership. If a future government does move back to a single-payer system, then the private company would be allowed to sue the government on the basis of lost profits because of unfair competition. This is effectively a form of "ratchet mechanism" ensuring that public services are run more and more by the private sector. In 2014, David Cameron was very fond of the TTIP trade deal stating that he would put "rocket boosters" on it - so presumably it is the case that the Conservatives are in favour of this kind of ratchet mechanism which puts road up blocks to single-payer health systems. Labour should be putting across the point that they will negotiate trade deals which will not undermine our valuable public services.

A moral obligation of us all, I believe, is to ensure that EU citizens who have settled in the UK and UK citizens settled in the EU should have their rights protected. I believe Labour is much better positioned to do this if they make this a negotiating target rather than going into a general election with a promise to deliver an extremely unpopular referendum.

A problem I had with Smith in particular was that he is too willing to pay anti-immigration sentiments lip service. It came across as though he wanted to appeal to those on the right but does not seem to have any particular idea about what to propose simply saying that he "would not put a finite number on it" when speaking of immigration caps. This seems both at odds with his stance on the EU but this kind of rhetoric is also the kind of thing that has enabled the infamous post-Brexit racism. By contrast, Corbyn channeled Diane Abbot drawing attention to the issue that the immigration policies for those outside the EUs are so restrictive that they stop families from re-uniting.

Another point of significant disagreement was over the trident nuclear deterrent. It is of course not particularly clear how functional it actually is as a deterrent and does cost a large amount with estimates of around £205 billion in costs at a time when we're making massive spending cuts in other areas. Cynically I'd suggest that our biggest nuclear threat is most likely to be Donald Trump acting on his "first strike" nuclear policy and sparking a war - of course that doesn't help us so much as the dead reckoning system on the trident missiles relies on US satellites to calibrate, it is not a particularly independent weapon. The immediate callousness of politicians and their willingness to "push the button" comes across to me as oddly remorseless. It is also the case that primarily our national threats are greatly dispersed, our primary military involvement is in the Middle East and our war against ISIS for which nuclear weapons are grossly inappropriate.

On anti-Semitism within the Labour party, Smith said that he thinks the party should take a zero-tolerance approach and act immediately. Corbyn is of the stance that members should be allowed due process, under his leadership members have indeed been suspended rather swiftly. The socialist Jewish outlet Jewish Voice tweeted:
Fiscal stimulus is another area where they disagree somewhat - while they both agree  that spending packages are necessary, Corbyn proposes a £500bn package involving the creation of a national investment bank whereas Smith is slightly more conservative in suggesting a £300bn spending package.

In general I felt that the hustings largely just reflected the overall debate that we've had so far with fairly little deviance between. In my estimation the crowd seemed to respond more positively toward Corbyn than towards Smith. Some of the points Smith made, particularly on immigration, echoed back to a recent episode of newsnight where he considered "small-c conservatism" to be something he advocated.

Smith also advocated "good, old fashioned socialist policies" although I do not think "old fashioned socialism" is really something many want to get behind.

Smith has a long way to go to win this contest in my estimation, and this charade continues to do more damage to the Labour Party than it is ever likely to resolve.

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