I first got to know Owen Smith personally when he came to campaign in Clwyd West in 2012. He wanted to take the fight to the Tories in a seat that we used to hold but which we knew would be more challenging to win. I arranged a schedule for him – visiting a local business in Ruthin and the developments at Parc Eirias as well as campaigning on policing issues. Later he came home to be quizzed on all sorts of issues by my kids over fish and chips. They are a hard audience to please but all three will be campaigning for him this summer.
Owen was genuinely interested in what people had to say. He didn’t lecture them but he did respond positively to their concerns and explained what he thought Labour should do to address them. Together with his campaign visits to Aberconwy we set up a great line for his speech to a Labour social at Colwyn Bay Football Club where he complained we had managed to invite him to a rugby stadium where there wasn’t a game, a brewery without drinking beer, a restaurant where he got no food and a football stadium where there was no football!
When Labour members on Ynys Môn asked me to be their candidate for an Assembly by-election in 2013, Owen was one of the stalwarts of the campaign, joining me and Albert Owen regularly on the campaign trail. When I was asked about the Bedroom Tax I gave a straightforward answer: it is wrong and I will campaign to get rid of it. Worried that I might be in trouble because this wasn’t official Labour Party policy I thought he might tell me off, but he agreed with my approach – you have to tell people the truth.
I have been out campaigning with Jeremy Corbyn as well – the key difference is that while Owen made the effort to come to marginal seats such as Ynys Môn and Aberconwy and more challenging seats such as Clwyd West, I don’t think Jeremy ever campaigned in seats that weren’t already safe Labour before he was elected Leader. Of course we cannot afford to ignore voters in supposedly safe seats, but it gives a very different perspective if you only ever talk to people whose support you hope to retain not those you want to win over.
Owen is someone who is prepared to do that which needs to be done – whether that was serving in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet when he was elected Leader or challenging him for the leadership of the Labour Party now that it is clear that the vast majority of Labour MPs do not have confidence in Corbyn and we need someone who can make a positive case for Labour.
For those who believe that to make progress we need to get progressive politicians elected, Owen Smith offers the hope we need.