Michael Grieve wrote in July that he wasn’t inspired by either of the candidates on offer in the UK leadership election and would probably not vote. Today he sets out his final decision on who he thinks should lead the party.
Last Friday evening I went up to Edinburgh to see Owen Smith. As you will know from my last piece I am no fan of Jeremy Corbyn and had not been impressed with Owen Smith either, so up until Friday evening I was not sure if I was going to vote at all in this election.
I was keen to actually hear what Owen Smith would say. I went with no preconceptions but I did want to know what he thought on independence as he had been “quoted” as saying that he would not stop a second independence referendum.
He started by giving a bit of a history lesson and showed he was quite knowledgeable about Scottish Labour history. For example the significance of the building we were in was not lost on him – it was John Smith’s local parish church and indeed the venue for his funeral.
Owen spoke about recent approval ratings and I felt it really hit home about Corbyn in Scotland when we have an allegedly left wing electorate here and yet Theresa May’s approval ratings are higher than Jeremy Corbyn’s. He highlighted how the SNP use the word progressive yet refuse to raise taxes to increase funding for public services.
Owen spoke about his policies and the substance which makes them, but also about how they would be funded, which is the all-important part. It’s easy to promise the earth, but if you can’t fund it or won’t say how you will fund it you aren’t being clear, transparent and truthful with your party, never mind the electorate. He also spoke about how we should be proud of what we achieved in government – the creation of tax credits, the national minimum wage, the longest period of sustained growth, Sure Start and of course devolution, to name but five.
He then answered open questions from the floor and he was asked twice about Trident. It was encouraging that he was open and honest about why he supports the renewal of Trident as part of a belief in long-term multilateral disarmament. After all, it is still UK Labour policy to support the renewal, even although Scottish Labour policy is against it.
The question I wanted to ask was asked before I got a chance, and it was on the issue of independence, as he had been quoted as saying he would support a second referendum. He clarified that he fully supported the Scottish Labour position being put forward by Kez that the question had been answered and that a second referendum was not required.
No question was off the table and he answered a range of further challenges, including on how he would unite the party after the election. I was very impressed with all his responses. I came away feeling that Owen Smith is a fresh face, and is at heart a socialist who believes in the NHS and social justice, and who has fought for the disabled over PIP and for families over tax credits. He was the shadow DWP minister when we got the Tory changes reversed in the Lords.
I believe that this election is about the future of our party and I’m afraid I see years in the wilderness under Jeremy. We need someone who is forward not backward thinking, and we need costed policies not sound bites.
So if, like me, you’ve felt there was no-one in this election for you, please take another look at Owen Smith. I’m now pleased to say he’s getting my vote.