It won’t come as much as a surprise to many that Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, has backed Owen Smith in the party’s leadership contest. In July, Dugdale said that with Jeremy Corbyn in charge Labour faced being wiped out at the ballot box. As if that wasn’t a clear enough indicator of who she would back, today she’s confirmed it. Dugdale had this to say:
‘Owen Smith gets my vote. I believe Owen can unite our party, and move us on from the divisions that exist under the current UK leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.’
The sentiment is clear and Dugdale is one of the highest-profile elected female figures in the Labour party to come out against Corbyn. But as with Sadiq Khan’s endorsement of Owen Smith, it’s unlikely to help very much at all in helping Smith defeat Corbyn. It was evident from the boos which greeted Khan’s name at a Jeremy Corbyn rally last night that any glimmer of opposition only serves to harden the resolve of those who back Corbyn. An endorsement of Smith doesn’t lead to Corbyn supporters asking questions; instead it leads the vast majority to go in search of a means by which they can undermine the person who came out with the endorsement. For the Mayor of London, who after all has one of the largest personal mandates in Europe, that might have been trickier. But the answer to Khan’s statement over the weekend that Corbyn wasn’t the right choice seems to have gathered around Khan’s willingness to accept the Labour leader’s support during the mayoral campaign (a somewhat tenuous claim given Khan’s desperate attempt to distance himself from the Labour leader).
Yet finding Dugdale’s weakness is somewhat easier. The Scottish Labour leader led the party to electoral disaster earlier this year, losing 13 seats and finishing third behind the Tories. Of course, some might say that the result was a reflection on Corbyn’s own leadership. But others – namely Corbyn supporters – won’t see it that way. So Dugdale’s comments today that she doesn’t ‘think Jeremy can unite our party and lead us into government. He cannot appeal to a broad enough section of voters to win an election’ will be difficult to reconcile for many with Dugdale’s own track record. What’s more, Dugdale’s own deputy backs Corbyn – meaning that her comments today are likely only to end up widening divisions within the Scottish Labour party. Whilst the Scottish Labour leader might have had the best intentions in speaking out for Smith, her endorsement won’t help a bit.