I was so excited when Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party. As a young Muslim girl I had always felt alienated by mainstream politics, particularly the foreign policies of the New Labour government. So when Jeremy was elected I finally felt like maybe a mainstream party could represent me and my views, and I was very eager to see the journey that Labour would go on. I wanted a profoundly left-wing, socialist party.
For the first seven months, I remained optimistic about Jeremy’s leadership. Maybe he wasn’t coming out with very concrete policies, but the principles of what he was saying were right. Maybe we seemed to be paying more attention to internal party politics than fighting the Tories, but it was good that the party was moving to the left. Maybe members weren’t really being empowered and getting to have a say, but the influx of new members was still a great thing.
But those worries and uncertainties started to grow, and it became more and more evident that Jeremy wasn’t providing the kind of strong leadership that Labour desperately needed. I started to lose hope; it felt like, once again, I was being abandoned by mainstream politics.
For many people, the final straw was Jeremy’s lacklustre campaign to remain in the EU. Like many other Labour members I think that Jeremy seemed apathetic throughout the campaign, which was really disappointing.
But for me what finally convinced me to vote for Owen Smith was, well, Owen Smith himself. A lot of people talk about how they can’t connect with politicians and I honestly believe that Owen Smith is the person to change that; his policies and his vision speak to people like me, people who feel left out of mainstream politics.
I’m not going to lie, I hadn’t really heard of Owen when he first declared he was standing. I knew he’d been in the shadow cabinet and as far as I was aware had done a good job, but beyond that I really didn’t know much about him.
But then I listened to what he was saying. And here was someone articulating so powerfully and so coherently the ideas and the values that had made me support Jeremy in the first place, with real policy plans and not just vague platitudes.
From a real living wage of over £10.00 an hour by 2020 (including for under twenty fives), to a British New Deal with over £200 billion investment in the British economy, to building over 300,000 homes a year, to nationalising the railways, to a proactive foreign policy which strives for peace; Owen’s vision for Britain is radical and credible, and listening to these plans has made me really excited about mainstream politics again for the first time in months.
Owen’s vision represents exactly what the Labour Party should stand for, and is a vision that the party can unite behind.
It’s not just about the kind of country we want to build though; it’s about the kind of party we want to be. Most people I’ve met in the Labour Party have been absolutely lovely, but a handful of people are making the party and increasingly unpleasant and increasingly toxic place, and this uncomradely culture has been allowed to grow under Jeremy’s leadership. This made me feel reluctant to campaign or attend events, and with more and more people feeling that way our party isn’t going to be able to utilise and engage our amazing membership.
I’m so pleased that Owen has called for zero tolerance to abuse, for anyone who has expressed anti-Semitic views to be kicked out of the party, and for a taskforce to root out misogyny in the party. I believe that with Owen as leader more young people, more women, more people of colour and more people who identify as LGBTQ+ will have the confidence to voice their ideas and finally feel like their ideas and voices will be listened to. When our party embraces the diversity that such an asset to us, we, as a party, will be so much more successful.
UK politics is drifting to the right, which as a Muslim woman of colour hasn’t exactly been pleasant experience for me. Owen, as leader of the Labour party, will reach out to people that are frustrated by this government and frustrated by mainstream politics; the kind of people who vote UKIP and voted Leave in June. We need to be able to reach out and talk to these people in order to make our country a friendlier and accepting place. I believe Owen has the passion and the vision in order to do this. He doesn’t just speak to people who already agree with him.
Never has this country needed a stronger Labour party than now. This government has ruined our economy, left students with crippling debt and left us in uncertainty about the future of our health service. And yet look at the polls. The Labour Party is miles behind the Tories. We need to get ourselves together and have a clear message communicate to the public. Corbyn simply can’t do this for our party.
I’m still glad Jeremy won last year. He has changed the party; moving the narrative to the left. Owen Smith’s campaign is, in many ways, a result of that. We now have a leadership contest where both candidates are proudly anti-austerity, which is exactly where the party should be. Now we need someone radical and charismatic to win an election and keep us united; and that person is Owen Smith.
Jomaan Sherlala is a Young Labour activist in the West Midlands.