Kenneth Fleming says the whiff of hypocrisy that sits at the heart of the Corbyn project has become an acrid stench.
“The Tories have just had a former PR man stroke lobbyist as their leader – David Cameron. You will know that in America, and here, people find the link between politics and lobbyists distasteful, and having been a former pharmaceutical company lobbyist will not help Owen Smith.”
Diane Abbott used to work in television production and PR before becoming an MP, a career path very similar to that of Owen Smith. That didn’t stop her holding up his professional past on the Today programme yesterday.
Ms Abbott knows that lobbying in the United States and United Kingdom are very different disciplines. I know this too, because I worked in a public affairs consultancy in Edinburgh for three years, like many, many party members who have held similar roles across the UK. But knowing the truth hasn’t stopped Abbott or the Corbyn campaign using Smith’s past against him.
So Owen Smith used to work in a Government Affairs and Policy role for Pfizer. Is this an automatic disqualifier to being leader of the Labour Party? I mean, there are problems with major pharmaceutical companies, absolutely, but he wasn’t a publicist for Skeletor was he?
Still Diane winks away about how much party members love the NHS, while memes flourish alleging that Owen Smith lobbied for its privatisation. Jeremy Corbyn even asked Owen Smith to agree that the NHS should be free at the point of use, although Smith had confirmed this earlier this week and throughout his career. I’ve seen plenty of garish graphics on Twitter, but not a shred of hard evidence to back up the anti-Smith propaganda. On the contrary, I have seen evidence that Smith helped to fund work at IPPR that argued for choice in the NHS, but against privatisation.
There may some be some Corbyn supporters reading this who might well reject it out of hand. Arrant apologism by one corporate sell-out for another. Fine. They probably have a point.
What I cannot accept is the condemnation of Owen Smith for his professional past, while at the same time Jeremy Corbyn’s record as a backbench MP is so glibly excused. Accepting money from a TV channel that was banned in the UK for its part in filming the torture of an Iranian journalist? Support for the Cuban Solidarity campaign? Inviting representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah to the Commons and calling them your friends?
Corbyn’s defenders might reply that engaging with illiberal regimes and terrorist organisations does not necessarily mean endorsing everything about those regimes or those organisations. They might say that engaging with these actors fosters dialogue, and this precipitates reform. Again, they probably have a point.
But if this is the case, why is Owen Smith personally accountable for the industry he worked for, when Jeremy Corbyn is not personally accountable for the people he has worked with? Jeremy Corbyn’s past is contextualised, and Owen Smith’s is caricatured. Speaking up for pharmaceutical executives is beyond the pale, but speaking up for Castro is not.
The whiff of hypocrisy that sits at the heart of the Corbyn project has become an acrid stench.
This is a man who rebelled against the democratically elected leaders of his party over 500 times, but then states at his leadership launch yesterday that his MPs have a duty and a responsibility to be loyal to him now.
This is about politics that was supposed to be straight talking and honest, but which has resulted in the alleged treatment of Thangnam Debonnaire, Lilian Greenwood and Conor McGinn.
This is about defining Owen Smith as anti-welfare, when Jeremy Corbyn himself appointed him Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions. This is the rhetoric of no personal attacks which condones veiled comparisons between this former member of the Labour shadow cabinet and a former Tory Prime Minister.
Corbyn was supposed to be different. Better. Purer. But in the end, Jeremy Corbyn is just like every other politician. Morally complicated and morally flawed. The difference is he is just not very good at being a leader.
Every time someone resigns from Corbyn’s cabinet they tell us that he is essentially a decent man. They do it with the same weary resignation as someone apologising for their pissed mate down the pub. “He’s not like this when he’s sober…” That’s Jeremy Corbyn: the sermonising student in the union bar, drunk on incoherent moral indignation about the bad people in the world.
The reason he is incompetent is not just because he lacks the skills, but because there is no substance or consistency to his politics, just a messy clutter of things he is against, with no clarity about what he is for.
This contest has just begun, and we have been reminded that the defining characteristic of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics isn’t the decency, it is the double standards.