You would have thought that after the #traingate fiasco, Owen Smith would be able to make some pretty good mileage in the Labour leadership race. Think again. His claim that his campaign is “on track” is dubious at best, and farcical at worst.
At a campaign rally last night, he seemingly branded Jeremy Corbyn “some lunatic”. “What you won’t get from me is some, you know, lunatic at the top of the Labour Party, you’ll have someone who tries to form a coherent narrative about what’s wrong with Britain,” were his exact words – and, as you might imagine, it didn’t go down famously (he has since acknowledged that he “should be less colourful with [his] language.”)
As the Labour Campaign for Mental Health has noted, “lunatic” is an unhelpful, derogatory term that infers some level of mental illness. Such a stigmatising and unnecessary taunt could have been avoided if “unity” candidate Owen Smith had bit his tongue.
We should be so lucky. Once again this Leadsom-like candidate’s lack of self-control has deeply offended many in the Labour Party who want to see a world without comments from politicians that exacerbate mental health stigma within our society.
This morning, Smith has refuted allegations that the insult was aimed at Jeremy Corbyn. Even if we put my scepticism to one side and give him the benefit of the doubt – the intended target of the jibe isn’t even the problem – it’s the jibe itself that counts. For as long as we can remember, it’s been used to describe and demean people, like myself, with mental illness.
It was only a few days ago that Owen Smith criticised Jeremy Corbyn for “abolishing” the Shadow Minister for Mental Health role, despite the fact that it was the refusal from many in the Parliamentary Labour Party to serve under the elected leader that resulted in the vacancy. In the same breath he spoke of how mental health would be a priority under his leadership, and that he would be a “champion for disabled people”.
There is a deep-seated stigma attached to mental illness, and both Smith’s comments and the childish sniggering from the audience which followed – whether that laughter was aimed towards Corbyn or Smith – shows that we still have a long way to go. At a time when people are afraid to speak out about mental health, waiting lists are at an all-time high and prescriptions of antidepressants are sky-rocketing – Owen Smith’s comments quite literally add insult to injury.
Moreover, these kind of comments are symptomatic of Owen Smith’s campaign for the Labour leadership so far. It is not the first time he that has dropped a clanger which has alienated Labour Party members and the general public in one fell swoop. During the leadership contest, he’s managed to rack up a disturbing collection of gaffes over a short period of time which have served to highlight his hypocrisy.
It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when he openly accuses Jeremy Corbyn of being partially responsible for misogyny in the Labour Party and lambasts him for not cracking down on it, but within 24 hours is talking about the need to “smash Theresa May back on her heels”, echoing sentiments we heard when he told Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood she was invited on Question Time because of her “gender”.
Similarly, his criticisms of Corbyn’s foreign policy and attitude towards national security are completely discredited when he suggests something as absurd as getting “round the table” with the death cult Isis. This latest faux pas is no better.
Much of the criticism levelled at Jeremy Corbyn is his effectiveness when it comes to communicating his message. But if Owen Smith has proven anything to Labour members over the last two months, it’s that he’s nowhere near capable of that himself.
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