I’ve just been listening to the Labour Leadership debate from Cardiff. In general, it seemed that Jeremy Corbyn was being applauded more enthusiastically than Owen Smith. However this pattern changed when a question was asked about how Labour was dealing with the question of antisemitism (40:25).
Both men, of course, condemned it – yet now the applause was louder for Smith, as though Corbyn supporters were less energised by this issue. However they did clap more warmly when he observed (correctly, to be fair) that some of the problems preceded his leadership. Then things got nasty – Owen Smith began to be heckled increasingly aggressively. He pointed out that this in itself might perhaps reflect a problem – a hostile atmosphere in the party. Not surprisingly this observation didn’t go down well.
Corbyn supporters insist that they were not booing Smith’s desire to deal with antisemitism – they claim that they were angry because Smith seemed to be weaponising the issue unfairly, implying the problem only arose with Corbyn, and did not exist prior to his leadership. Yet if you listen to the debate the jeers clearly begin before that point, and cannot be ascribed to any unfair focus on Corbyn himself. In fact Owen Smith could be said to have shown restraint on this topic – he certainly steered clear of some of the controversial episodes in the Labour leader’s past, usefully summarised here by James Bloodworth.