If we didn’t know it before, Diane Abbott has made it clear that this summer’s Labour leadership contest is going to be very nasty indeed. On the day Jeremy Corbyn will officially launch his campaign, his loyal ally has taken to the airwaves to stick the knife into his challenger Owen Smith. We’ve had a taste of just how the Corbynistas are planning to attack Smith before and it seems his links to Pfizer, where he used to work, will be the main thrust of their attempts to undermine him. Abbott made that much obvious this morning. She managed to concede that Owen was a ‘great bloke and so on’, but her main purpose in speaking out was to go on the attack. Here’s what she said about him on the Today programme:
‘He wasn’t a scientist, he was a lobbyist. The Tories have just had a former PR man, stroke lobbyist as their leader: David Cameron. They’ve now moved beyond that. I don’t believe that someone whose history as having been a special adviser and pharmaceutical company lobbyist is going to enthuse the base.’
Many of those who have tried to get in Corbyn’s way are used to being labelled ‘Blairites’. But the comparison to David Cameron is something new altogether. In reality, Owen Smith and David Cameron have little in common, and Diane Abbott knows this. But that didn’t stop her using the tenuous comparison to go on the offensive. She went on to suggestively mention peoples’ ‘worries’ about the links between lobbyists and politicians in a thinly-veiled attack on Smith’s credibility. The implication here was plain: Smith has been corrupted by his past and there can be no forgiveness for him. In reality, Corbyn’s allies were always going to find something to try and undermine whoever stood in the Labour leader’s way. And it seems that a dog whistle suggestion that Owen Smith won’t keep the NHS safe will do nicely. Smith might have tried his best to build bridges with Corbyn yesterday by saying that if he won, Corbyn could stick around as party president. On the basis of what we’ve heard this morning, that gesture will not be reciprocated any time soon.
But it wasn’t only Owen Smith who was at fault in Diane Abbott’s view. When asked about Jeremy Corbyn’s dismal performance yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions – which she could best describe as ‘fine’ – she was clear who was at fault: the Labour MPs sitting behind Corbyn. Here’s what she said:
If Owen Smith wants Jeremy Corbyn to score points over Theresa May, he needs to speak to his colleagues. They refuse to cheer, they sit on their hands, they sulk, they chat amongst themselves. And some of these Labour MPs need to understand, it’s not about supporting Jeremy as a person, it’s about going into the chamber for Prime Minister’s Questions and supporting your party.
Once again, the attempt to undermine those who stand in Corbyn’s way is plain. Abbott knows that those who didn’t woop and cheer their leader yesterday won’t start doing so when he next appears at the despatch box because she’s told them to. Instead, her aim is to widen the chasm between Corbyn and the man standing against him in the hope that Labour voters will see a clear difference between their two options – and ultimately side with Corbyn. In doing so, she’s trying to fight back against Smith’s claim to be ‘radical’ and label him as a type of pseudo-David Cameron. Expect a long, hot summer of viciousness in the Labour leadership race. So much for a new type of politics.