Labour HQ is officially neutral in the struggle between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith but the former’s team speak of “dirty tricks” deployed against them. After being told that no leafleting was allowed outside the first hustings in Cardiff, Corbyn’s supporters were surprised to find Smith’s out in force. The leader’s team also complains that it was misled over whether the debate would be broadcast and was surprised when closing statements were shortened from four minutes to two. “They’re doing all they can to throw sand in the works,” a source fumed, adding that Labour’s directors were “fighting for their jobs”.
Enthusiasm for Corbyn is undiminished among many of his supporters. “He’s like Nelson Mandela and Gandhi,” one MP was told in Cardiff. “It’s no coincidence that his initials are JC. He was crucified and had Judas standing against him.” A Smith phone-bank volunteer knew her call had failed when she heard: “Corbyn speaks to my soul.” Labour MPs fear that such devotion could help Corbyn survive even general election defeat. Left-wingers are fond of pointing out that Neil Kinnock remained in post despite losing in 1987.
Meanwhile, cab drivers are said to have refused to accept payment from the leader. But Corbynmania does not extend to all parts. One group arrived at a rally in Merthyr Tydfil expecting to see TV’s Jeremy Kyle and promptly left when told the headliner’s true identity (“Who’s he?”).
Smith’s supporters were stunned when he was booed at a hustings for citing Nye Bevan (his “hero”) in defence of Trident. It was the NHS founder who warned in 1957 that unilateral disarmament would send a British foreign secretary “naked into the conference chamber”. Bevan also first described the Conservatives as “lower than vermin”. Until recently, T-shirts bearing his remark could be purchased from the Guardian shop. But after the paper ran a piece condemning the use of insults such as, ahem, “vermin”, they have inexplicably become unavailable.
Having already accused Smith of stealing its policies, the Corbyn campaign now alleges theft of another kind. Suspicions were aroused by the challenger’s data protection statement. “It was word for word the same as the one our QC wrote for us,” a source said. “You never get the same one.”
Google is where the most searching questions about the Labour contest are to be found. “Is Jeremy Corbyn married?” and “How tall is Owen Smith?” were the top two queries in the lead-up to the Cardiff hustings, followed by “Where is Jeremy Corbyn speaking next?” and, simply, “Who is Owen Smith?”. Corbyn’s unattached admirers will be disappointed to learn that he is married (his third wife is Laura Álvarez) – but Smith’s height remains a mystery.
Kevin Maguire is away
This article appears in the 10 Aug 2016 issue of the New Statesman, From the Somme to lraq