Why I want to be leader

  • Following consultation with the senior members of the respective parties (Tommy Kane, Bill Ramsay) on our editorial committee, we set the two sets of leadership contenders a set of questions to answer. Readers will be able to form their own views on to what extent and how well each candidate answered these questions. The questions are reproduced where they were answered on a question-by-question basis.

What is your political ideology?

I’m a pragmatic socialist. I want to make a practical difference for working people, for those unable to work through no fault of their own and for those who cannot find a job. For me, it is not about romanticism or ideology. It is about making a difference as quickly as possible. It is about creating a much fairer society in which everyone has a chance to make something of themselves.

I grew up in South Wales during the miners’ strike. I know about socialism. For me, it’s a gut feeling as well as the only rational way of running a fair society. I want a radical Labour Party, but a clear-headed one; a party that is able to convince electors that we should form the next government.

Each generation of Labour men and women that have claimed power in Parliament have transformed the lives of working people for the better. Attlee’s government built our NHS and rebuilt our country from the rubble of war, Wilson’s governments gave us the Equal Pay Act and comprehensive education, and the last Labour government introduced the national minimum wage and civil partnerships. None of these achievements things would have happened under the Tories. That’s why we always have to fight for power.

What are your key policies?

The Tory austerity experiment has left our social and physical infrastructure in a state of disrepair, delivered sclerotic growth and forced ordinary people to pay of a financial crisis for which they bear no responsibility. I’d bring austerity to an end with a British ‘New Deal’ – a £200bn investment in Britain’s future which takes advantage of the historically low cost of borrowing.

I believe that at least £20bn should be committed immediately on shovel-ready projects: rail electrification, renewable energy schemes, and plans for new FE colleges. These are vital infrastructure projects that are ready to go but simply lack the necessary finance to get started.

We urgently need to deal with the housing crisis, so I’ve set out plans to build 300,000 homes a year, half of them social homes. And, we need to tackle the crisis in our health service, so I would increase NHS funding by 4% a year, over £60bn over five years, funded by new taxes on the wealthy.

I would introduce a real ‘Living Wage’ of £8.25 an hour, rising above £10 by 2020, restore collective bargaining in the public sector and strengthen union recognition throughout the economy, and bring forward a new Equal Pay Act to tackle wage discrimination against women.

I think that leaving the EU will be disaster for the British economy. It will threaten worker’s rights and leave us less able to deal with security challenges. That’s why I campaigned with every sinew in my body to keep us in Europe. As a party, we now have to do everything we can to ensure that the Tories do not use Brexit as an opportunity to isolate Britain from our European partners and strike down rights at home. If we give Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis a blank cheque, saying that we will sign off on any Brexit deal they secure, a right-wing Brexit deal is precisely what we’ll get. That’s why I am proposing to offer the British people the ability to approve or reject the terms of Brexit through a second referendum or General Election.

What is your strategy for delivering upon them?

The only way of delivering these policies is by winning over the electorate – not preaching to the converted. It is about winning elections. We should cherish our traditional support and ensure it is translated into an effective organisation come election time. But it not just about galvanising our members and supporters – it is about reaching out to floating voters in marginal constituencies. General elections are won or lost by electors with no party political affiliation. That does not mean compromising on our basic principles, but it does mean effective organisation at grassroots level and it does mean effective communication.

During the last election, we were too timid in our defence of the record of the last Labour governments, which lifted a million pensioners out of poverty, introduced the national minimum wage, brought in civil partnerships and rescued the NHS from a state of disrepair. We didn’t defend that proud record vociferously enough and that meant too few people could see the real benefits of a Labour government.

We were also too timid in expressing the differences between ourselves and the Tories. The truth is that a Labour government under Ed Miliband would have brought an end to the disastrous austerity experiment and reversed the damage brought by Iain Duncan Smith’s punitive regime at the Department of Work and Pensions.

Principled electoral failure is no good to the people who really need a Labour government. That is why I will make it a priority to hold together and use all of the talent within our party, and to work with every bone in my body to persuade and convince every voter, no matter how they have voted in the past, of the merits of a Labour government.

What are the critical tasks for Labour in Scotland given the dynamic is different here?

The problems that have affected Labour in Scotland weren’t created overnight and they won’t be solved overnight. That’s why I’m pleased that, in Kezia Dugdale we have a leader who has a long term plan for rebuilding our fortunes.

There are three areas we need to focus on. The first is holding the SNP government to account. We need to be better at exposing the fact that the SNP may have left-wing rhetoric, but don’t govern as a left-wing party. In our colleges, schools and hospitals, the SNP’s record hasn’t been bold or radical. The gap between the richest and the poorest students have grown, 140,000 college places in working class communities have been lost, and the NHS is relying more and more on private nurses while the number of full time paid nurses has decreased. That is primarily a job for Kezia and her team in Holyrood, but I’ll do all I can to support her.

Second, we need to show that being part of Britain can make life better for people in Scotland. Under this Tory Government, people in Scotland haven’t done well. The economy has suffered and the poorest and most vulnerable have been most at risk. And the Tories’ approach at the election pitted people in England against people in Scotland. It has divided people when what we need more than ever is to unite people across Britain. We also badly need investment. My British ‘New Deal’ will deliver £20bn of investment to Scotland. That’s money to spend on critical infrastructure and invest in our public services.

Finally, I’ll make sure we give the party in Scotland the autonomy it needs to be successful. The path to victory for Scottish Labour has to run through Holyrood, and so it’s right that our Scottish leader has the power over the party to make decisions affecting Scotland and the Scottish party in Scotland. There should never be any doubt about that. As a united Labour Party across Britain, we will always be there providing the support the party in Scotland needs, but as I know from Wales, we need a strong Scottish party standing up for the people of Scotland.

How can you as an individual, with your particular qualities and talents, use these to take these matters forward? 

Labour members and supporters can be assured that, with me, they will have a leader prepared to work day in day out to win and to put our values into action. I’ve taken on the Tories over their cruel and arbitrary cuts to society security, and forced a number of concessions, but I know that Opposition leaves us powerless to truly help the men and women our party was founded to represent. I won’t rest until we have a Labour Government putting our socialist principles in practice.

 Owen Smith is the Labour MP for Pontypridd