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“It’s the switcher’s wot won it” – will that be the verdict on Owen Smith’s victory?

August 30th, 2016

Owen Smith

I surprised a few friends in a previous posting when I declared I was a bit of a fan of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. I will surprise a few more when I say I am admirer of my former BBC boss John Birt. My enthusiasm stems in part from the fact that I was a Father of the Chapel for National Union of Journalists in Television News. Under the Birt regime there were lots of extra journalist jobs and progressive policies on equality and diversity

But what got me thinking about the former director general was his warnings about “bias against understanding” in news coverage. The argument is reviewed by one of my ablest former colleagues Richard Sambrook.

Does the Birt theory explain, I wondered, why so many people insist that a Jeremy Corbyn victory is all but inevitable.

The latest is Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer who says the “incumbent will win …Even the more optimistic of his internal opponents now think the best they can hope for is that his majority goes down, diminishing his mandate. And Joff Wild of this parish says Labour members will “almost certainly” re-elect Corbyn.

These confident predictions are made despite the fact that we have yet to have a single poll conducted among the 640,000 plus members and supporters entitled to vote. As I argued here  there is no solid evidence supporting Corbyn’s favouritism. My belief that the contest is “too close to call.”

My hunch is that the “bias against understanding” comes from the fact the central feature of the Corbyn campaign, the mass rallies, are highly visible and easily reportable.

Owen Smith’s path to victory runs through thousands of living rooms where potential switchers are agonising over their decision in private. One who went public gives a fascinating insight into the thought process. Loz or Laura a “self-diagnosed Twitter addict.”

“Yesterday I cast my vote for the Labour leadership election and the box I put my X in…was for a Mr. Owen Smith. There. I have said it.”

She had been building up courage to write the blog . “I genuinely feel frightened, ” says. Rejects the idea that all Corbyn supporters, are a “baying mob”  she has no doubt “that I am in for some abuse, it is unfortunately to be expected in this day and age.” She has made lots of new friend through her support for Corbyn and “I feel I owe them some kind of explanation for my U-Turn”

A key influence on Laura’s decision was her fiancé – “the kind of voter we need to win over.” He has heard all the pro Corbyn arguments from Laura. “So trust me if anyone was going to be influenced to Corbyn it would be him. Yet he told me in no uncertain times that he would NOT vote for Labour if Jeremy Corbyn is leader.”

How many Lauras are there? No one can know for sure but the Smith campaign believe there are enough to give him victory and they released a video last week specifically designed to turn doubters into switchers. Four former members of Corbyn’s front bench, Lilian Greenwood, Gloria del Piero, Nia Griffiths and Anna Turley their frustration at dealing with a leader lacking basic leadership skills.

Their collective view is that working with Corbyn was a nightmare. Not so, says his fellow Islington MP and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. 

“I have not agreed with everything Jeremy has said and done since becoming the Labour leader last year, but where I have had disagreements with him, I have always found him and his team willing to get around a table, listen, reflect and discuss a way forward.”

The striking thing about Thornberry’s 1,000 word letter to her party members is that a no point does she address the question of how Labour can win over voter’s like Laura’s fiancé. And the words “Jeremy will be Prime Minister” never get past her keyboard.

Don Brind