It’s been another dramatic and turbulent week in the Labour Party but one thing is now clear: the upcoming leadership contest will be fought between the incumbent Jeremy Corbyn and Welsh MP Owen Smith.
It initially appeared as if Smith was going to strike a conciliatory tone in the leadership debate, suggesting that Corbyn could potentially become Party President, in a bid to find a way forward. But spurred by on-going support from the membership, Corbyn has undoubtedly grown in confidence since taking the top job. Speaking at the launch of his campaign this week not only did he assume that he had already won the contest, asserting his desire to be Prime Minister, but further stoked the fires by suggesting that Labour MPs would face reselection in 2020 following potential boundary changes, leading Owen Smith to accuse him of ‘threatening to sack’ his own colleagues.
The ongoing battle for the heart of the Party continued to spill over into proceedings in the House of Commons. On Monday, Corbyn argued and voted against most of his backbenchers on the issue of Trident renewal, a vote that he unsurprisingly lost by a wide margin. Theresa May’s first Prime Ministers Questions was also a bruising affair for Corbyn who failed to land any significant punches, leading to some of Corbyn’s close circle blaming backbench Labour MPs for “sitting on their hands” rather than vocally cheering their leader on.
It is still far too early to say with certainty who will win this contest, but a promising sign for Corbyn is that Labour membership has soared this week, with 180,000 new people signing up, and rumours suggesting that 60 percent of these are likely to back him in the race (something he is well aware of). By contrast the, – until recently – unknown Smith has struggled to his get campaign of the ground. While some have placed his failure to enthuse the membership down to his corporate image and previous role as a lobbyist for Pfizer, any candidate would struggle against the cult-like following that Corbyn appears to have created within the party. A following that sees him do no wrong. Owen Smith needs to find his own voice and narrative if he has any hope of dethroning Corbyn, and he needs to find it fast.