So that’s that. With its latest poll predicting that Jeremy Corbyn will win by a knockout on the first vote, the pollster YouGov’s Peter Kellner says he’ll be astonished if the sandalled messiah is not elected Labour leader next month.
Were there a recent precedent for Kellner being astonished by a shock election result unpredicted by the polling, you might be tempted towards caution. But since there isn’t, let us assume that this is a fait accompli, and that the lovable peacenik will land the odds by decisively defeating the fearsomely talented trio of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail.
Many articles from different perspectives have already tried to explain how Labour has reached this remarkable pass, and a myriad more will follow. Theses and books will be written, and Channel 4 will churn out a telly drama. One day, the Corbyn biopic, starring Meryl Streep in the title role, will come to a cinema near you.
I look forward to that with glee, because the instantaneous ascent to reluctant superstardom of someone who has long toiled in subterranean gloom makes a captivating story. Jezza, the Susan Boyle of politics, has earned his time in the sun.
But today I invite you to leave the limelight in which our bearded beloved basks, and join me in celebrating a politician who deserves a ray of limelight himself. For while all those weighty articles ponder how this miracle has come about, on the most literal level the mystery can be resolved with two words: Andrew Smith.
I was about to write “Lest Smith has escaped your notice”, but that would be pompous rot even by the standards of this page. Andrew Smith has unquestionably escaped you. Somehow, despite holding two middle-ranking cabinet posts during Mr Tony Blair’s early years in power, the Labour MP for Oxford East has always been a politician of breathtaking obscurity.
The premise of Pointless, BBC1’s engaging teatime quiz, is that contestants find answers which as few as possible of those surveyed gave when surveyed. In one final round, the question was “Name any member of a Tony Blair cabinet”. Among the pointless jackpot-winning answers was Andrew Smith. Not one respondent recalled him. That included me – and in his cabinet days I wrote about him in a diary column (admittedly centring on his forgettability) quite often.
So here’s a thing to give hope to those of us who dream, however fancifully, of leaving some kind of public legacy. It may be true that his contribution to government was negligible, if that. It may also be the case that the most interesting thing about Andrew Smith, by far, is his name. Aill bnd yet, he will be remembered long after more pyrotechnic colleagues are forgotten because – however casually and inadvertently – he changed history.
Moments before noon on 16 June 2015, when the leadership shortlist closed, it was Smith who became the 35th Labour MP to nominate Jeremy Corbyn, qualifying him for the election we now take it for granted he will win. As with Margaret Beckett and the other “morons”, Smith did not and does not support Corbyn.
But whether he wanted a “broad debate”, as he claimed in an excitable tweet filed that day soon after Corbyn hugged him with gratitude, or calculated that the presence of a hard left candidate would help whichever of the Three Stooges he actually does support, he made his choice with seconds to spare before Big Ben struck midday.
He might so easily have been late. He could have been trapped in his office by an urgent phone call, or been stricken by a tummy bug, or in his frantic haste tripped and turned an ankle. He might have been lying on a stone floor, whimpering, when the list closed leaving Jez that one tantalising nomination short.
On such randomness does the arc of history turn. A ruddy-faced butterfly from east Oxford flapped his wings to make a deadline, and a devastating tornado began to blow.
This manifestation of the domino effect demands a movie of its own. If I was pitching it, the hook would be Sliding Doors meets Charlie Wilson’s War. Running in tandem with the narrative about how Smith set Corbyn on his climb to the highest plinth in our political pantheon, as creator of a long overdue socialist paradise, would be an alternate timeline. The one, perhaps, where he does sprain an ankle, and Andy Burnham leads a craven Tory Lite party to a worse defeat than the last one.
As for Charlie Wilson’s War, that gem of a film concerns a ferociously irrelevant Republican congressman from Texas who chances on a news report from Afghanistan and gets interested in the USSR’s war there when no one else could give a toss.
Gradually, singlehandedly, he diverts enough cash and weaponry to the Mujahadin to enable the Soviets’ first military defeat, the downfall of their empire, the end of the Cold War, the rise of the Taliban and Bin Laden, etc, etc. Almost accidentally, whether for better or worse (the jury will be out on that one for centuries), Charlie Wilson changed the world.
It seems unlikely that Andrew Smith will ever be seen as the catalyst for as dramatic a global transformation. But assuming Peter Kellner avoids another fit of the vapours on 12 September, Smith’s 11th hour, 59th minute and 57th second intervention will shape his party, and possibly his country, in ways that cannot be imagined.
It is the fantasy of every politician to change the future. This is almost certainly not how he foresaw realising the ambition when he first stood for parliament. But that honour has fallen to Andrew Smith, and never again will he be the jackpot answer on Pointless.Reuse content