Owen Smith, British Blair and Pfizer candidate


Owen Smith and Pfizer, cartoon

By Greg Dash in Britain:

Owen Smith’s policies – like Jeremy’s but not as good

Friday 5th August 2016

GREG DASH takes a look at the Labour leadership challenger’s policies and finds them half-baked

OWEN SMITH’S “cold-eye socialist revolution” received a lukewarm reception after his “radical” ideas were scrutinised, and revealed to be repackaged or watered down versions of current Labour policy.

This manoeuvre will do little to put to rest accusations that Smith’s left-wing politics are little more than spin with no substance. So how revolutionary are Smith’s ideas?

Jobs

One of Smith’s key policies, the reintroduction of a ministry of labour to replace the Department for Work and Pensions was announced by Jeremy Corbyn in August 2015 and committed to by John McDonnell in June at a speech at the Institute of Employment Rights.

In the same speech, McDonnell committed to two more policies proposed by Smith: reintroducing sectoral collective bargaining (pitched as a watered-down reintroduction of wage councils by Smith) and the repeal of the Trade Union Act.

Smith’s plans to get workers on company boards was one of Liz Kendall’s policies during the 2015 leadership election.

Labour previously toyed with the idea of “stakeholder capitalism” under Tony Blair in opposition, but it was never fully adopted.

Jeremy has instead launched Workplace 2020 in an effort to rebuild links between workers and trade unions, providing an opportunity for working-class people to shape Labour Party policy.

Pay

Smith was silent on wages, while Jeremy committed to introducing a “full” living wage, to replace to rebranded minimum wage introduced by the Tories.

Jeremy has also committed to address the gender pay gap, requiring all businesses that employ more than 21 staff to be audited to crack down on discriminatory wage practices.

Echoing Jeremy, Smith said he would ban zero-hours work, but oddly backed the introduction of a one-hour minimum contract.

The economy

Strangely, Smith was less radical than the Tories on his “New Deal” investment pledge.

Much was made of May’s recent announcement of “project bonds,” an idea borrowed from McDonnell’s proposal for a government-backed development bank.

Through this bank, Labour will be able to raise £500 billion of investment for British infrastructure projects and create 100,000 jobs. Smith has pledged £200bn of investment.

Tax

Smith backed Jeremy’s proposal to reintroduce a 50p top rate of income tax for earnings over £150,000. He also re-presented current Labour policy to reverse Tory cuts in corporation tax and to reverse cuts to inheritance tax.

Despite the focus placed on cracking down on tax avoidance this year by all parties, Smith failed to introduce a plan to ensure the rich pay their taxes like everyone else.

Jeremy has said he would intervene to enforce laws on British overseas territories and dependencies if they do not comply with British tax law, introduce anti-avoidance measures into British law and invest in HM Revenue and Customs so it can hire the staff needed to collect the tax the country badly needs.

The NHS

On a number of occasions Smith has had to explain comments he made while working as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry that suggested he supported greater private involvement in the NHS.

Also in 2010, as a new MP, he called on ministers to “improve incentives” for pharmaceutical companies and warned against the use of cheaper, unbranded drugs on the NHS as they would affect the pharmaceutical industry.

Smith has pledged an extra 4 per cent a year real-terms funding to the NHS. This would provide a needed boost to the NHS, but with government spending rapidly falling, a 2020 general election may mean that a 4 per cent increase will not be enough to meet Smith’s pledge to bring spending in line with international standards.

Jeremy has committed to opposing privatisation of our NHS in all forms and reintroducing greater public control over the organisations that provide services through the NHS.

He has called for a reform of research and development tax credits, often used as a tax loophole by big companies; instead arguing that tax credits should only be given to organisations that can prove the social benefit of their work, or in exchange for a better deal for the NHS.

Who is Owen Smith?

When called out for co-opting many of Jeremy’s policies, Smith bitterly criticised the shadow cabinet — many of whom have now resigned and are now campaigning for him — as being “devoid of ideas quite often” and called out McDonnell for not campaigning enough on workers’ rights.

The absurdity of this slur was made clear after trade unions and campaigners rushed to defend McDonnell against these accusations.

I asked Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, what he thought of these comments.

“The blacklisted workers consider him one of us. John has been our parliamentary spokesperson from day one.

“He was the first person to name police officers who attended the illegal meetings, he chaired the launch of the Blacklisted book inside the Palace of Westminster, and read out a statement from Peter Francis [undercover police officer turned whistleblower] admitting that he has spied on activists from at least six or seven trade unions during his deployment.

“That is without even talking about the countless early-morning picketlines in the snow and the rain at which he seems to be ever present.”

Orgreave campaigner John Dunn also challenged Smith after the policy launch, calling out Smith for hosting a publicity stunt at the site where police brutally attacked workers during the miners’ strike.

I had a similar reaction recently after hearing Smith appropriate the struggle of the miners in south Wales, the sacrifice of my family and my community, as part of his opening pitch.

The struggles of the families in south Wales are too important to be reduced to a soundbite or a political slogan, and Smith’s inability to recognise this suggests that these stories of anger, resistance and of solidarity mean nothing to him other than tools for political branding.

Many of the policies proposed by Smith are indeed a step into a more progressive direction for Labour, and it’s likely that many people voted for these policies when voting for Jeremy last year — so why will I not be voting for Smith?

During the height of the coup, Kezia Dugdale spoke to the Guardian about Jeremy’s weaknesses: “He’s deeply driven by his principles and wanting to do the right thing,” she said. “He won’t compromise them in order to be in government and he doesn’t think that he needs to.”

I don’t think this is a problem that Smith will face. And I’m deeply concerned about the sort of policies that the Labour Party might adopt and the “wrong things” it might do to get into power.

With the rise of right-wing populism and increasing xenophobia, the Labour Party has a duty to respond and offer an alternative based on the basic principles — solidarity, social justice and democracy — of those that founded the party.

Unfortunately, after recent events it appears that some within the party no longer value these principles — and only a new kind of politics will bring about the change that the country needs.

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