OWEN SMITH: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

 THIS ARTICLE first appeared on the Press Gang website. 

Owen_Smith_head_seasons

THE BATTLE for the Labour leadership is in full swing.

But so far the personal integrity of Owen Smith has not been an issue in the campaign.

The mainstream media have accepted his own sanitized version of his career.

The result is that it has largely been left to Press Gang to ask the searching questions about Owen Smith.

He still declines to provide the detailed CV we’ve asked for.

But, after some delay, he’s finally started to answer some of our questions.

He denies that nepotism and patronage in South Wales played any part in his rise to become a possible future Prime Minister.

But some of his answers are unconvincing.

And more questions are emerging …

♦♦♦

SEVEN HOURS after Press Gang published the article “Owen Smith: Forged by Patronage and Nepotism?” the Labour leadership candidate finally answered some of our questions.

His press team told us on Wednesday:

“The suggestion that Owen received any of his roles through patronage are (sic) completely false.”

A spokesperson said Owen Smith had forwarded our questions to Nick Evans, the senior BBC Wales radio producer who first hired him.

Nick Evans then sent us two emails.

Labour leadership challenge
LEFT — AND LEFT AGAIN?
JEREMY CORBYN and Owen Smith at the first public hustings of the leadership campaign in Cardiff on Thursday night. The British media have concentrated most of its forensic firepower on Jeremy Corbyn and have largely taken the challenger at face value. Press Gang is one of the few investigative outlets examining Owen Smith’s career in detail.
Photo: PA

In the first, Evans said it was Owen Smith who first approached him for work.

In his second, he gave a different version: Owen Smith had come into BBC Wales with his father and it was Evans who offered him work.

We asked Owen Smith about this contradiction.

His press team replied:

“Owen’s appointment followed casual work he had gained at BBC Wales, after contacting Nick directly, … without any input from his father.”

The press team also forwarded our questions to the man who was BBC Wales’ head of human relations at the time, Keith Rawlings, adding:

” … he would be able to confirm all of your allegations are completely false.”

“Keith sat on the interview panel alongside Nick [Evans] when Owen was originally interviewed.”

Press Gang rang Keith Rawlings.

He told us he wasn’t on the interview panel when Owen Smith was originally appointed.

He said the first he knew of Owen Smith was much later, after Dai Smith had been appointed Editor, Radio Wales.

In other words, Rawlings knew nothing about how Owen Smith was first introduced to Radio Wales …

♦♦♦

HAVE THE BBC been complicit in Owen Smith’s attempts to avoid questions about nepotism and patronage?

Two days after Owen Smith became the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn, the BBC political reporter Brian Wheeler posted a profile of the candidate headed “The Owen Smith story”.

This article set the tone for much of the general media treatment of Owen Smith’s early BBC career.

It contained this paragraph:

“After studying history and French at the University of Sussex, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer. His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

By focusing on the actual appointments of Owen Smith to a post on Radio Wales and Dai Smith as Editor of Radio Wales, it gave the impression that Owen was already at the BBC when his father was picked to be the next Editor of Radio Wales.

It failed to say that Dai Smith had already introduced Owen before either appointment took place.

DaiSmith_35
DAI SMITH
OWEN SMITH’S father has been an important figure in Welsh public life for decades. He was the second most powerful man at BBC in the late 1990s and close to the clique that controlled broadcasting at that time. As one of the main historians of the south Wales miners, he’s also close to some of the key political figures in Welsh Labour. Owen Smith insists his father played no part in his career …
Photo: Parthian Books 

Given that the information in this article could only have come from one of two places — the BBC itself or Owen Smith — it raises the question of bias.

On Thursday Press Gang editor Paddy French wrote to BBC Director General Lord (Tony) Hall.

The email said there were several errors in the paragraph’s second sentence:

“His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

French noted:

” — there has never been an Editor of BBC Wales. The post being referred to here is Editor, Radio Wales.”

” — there is an issue about the date of [Dai’s] appointment: former BBC Wales contacts tell me this was actually 1993, not 1992.”

” — Dai Smith was not appointed head of programmes in the same year: that actually happened, as I understand it, in 1994.”

The Press Gang editor added:

“I am also concerned at the possibility that this paragraph was a deliberate red herring, designed to deflect attention away from the question about how Owen Smith was introduced to BBC Wales in the first place.”

“Given the sensitivity that surrounds the Corbyn-Smith contest for the Labour leadership, this article also raises questions about BBC impartiality.”

A spokeswoman for Tony Hall acknowledged receipt of the email but, at the time this article went to press, there was no reply.

♦♦♦

OTHER SERIOUS challenges to Owen Smith’s reputation for honesty are beginning to emerge.

In 2002 he left BBC Wales and took a post as special adviser to Labour Cabinet Minister Paul Murphy, the MP for the Welsh constituency of Torfaen.

Owen Smith insists his family connections played no part in this appointment.

His press team told us:

“With regards to Owen’s appointment with Paul Murphy — again Dai [Smith] had absolutely no involvement.”

“Dai did not even know Paul Murphy at all, until after Owen began working for him.”

Paul Murphy also denied that Dai was involved in the appointment but wouldn’t explain how Owen Smith came to be selected.

Murphy told us:

“He came from BBC Wales, although I knew his father through Welsh Labour history circles.”

In 2005 Owen Smith joined the controversial US pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

His exact role is not clear — one press report said he was Head of Policy and Government Relations.

We asked Pfizer for more information.

The company told us:

“We are unable to discuss the details of individuals’ roles; however, we can confirm that Owen Smith was employed by Pfizer UK in our Corporate Affairs Department between January 2005 and September 2008.”

The job involved a substantial increase in salary.

Owen Smith moved his family from London down to a £489,000 house in the Surrey village of Westcott near Dorking.

In 2006 Pfizer allowed him time off work to contest the Blaenau Gwent by-election.

Owen Smith said the company had been “extremely supportive” of his aspirations to public office.

But the fact that Labour had selected a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant was not popular in a seat which included Nye Bevan’s old powerbase.

Labour party annual conference 2015
“DRUG PUSHER”
WHEN OWEN SMITH was selected as the candidate for the by-election in Blaenau Gwent in 2006, there was concern that he was a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company — Labour MP Paul Flynn called him a “drug pusher”.  In the general election of 2005 local politician Peter Law had left the party in protest at the imposition of an all-woman shortlist and captured the seat as an independent. He died of a brain tumour a year later and Labour, dropping its all-woman shortlist, selected Owen Smith. The party confidently expected to regain the seat and spent more than £56,000 on the campaign, including holiday accommodation outside the constituency for party activists drawn in from all over Britain. Dai Davies, Law’s agent, spent less than £7,000 on his campaign but still managed to beat Smith with a majority of 2,484 votes.
Photo: PA 

Newport Labour MP Paul Flynn said:

“I wasn’t too pleased that we had a drug pusher as a candidate.

He added:

“The lobbyists are a curse, a cancer in the system. It’s insidious. One of my main interests in politics is areas in which lobbyists used their wicked wiles to get access to government. One example is the pharmaceutical industry, who are the most greedy and deceitful organisations we have to deal with.”

♦♦♦ 

OWEN SMITH’S time as a lobbyist with Pfizer haunts his political career.

In June 2014, when Owen Smith was shadow Welsh Secretary, there was a major controversy involving Pfizer.

The American company made a £69 billion bid for AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish company, which would have made Pfizer the world’s largest drug business.

It was opposed by then Labour Leader Ed Miliband who didn’t want a flagship UK company falling into US hands.

The fact that Labour were attacking a company when one of its own shadow Cabinet members had worked for the company as a lobbyist attracted media attention.

Owen Smith told the Sunday Telegraph:

“… obviously having worked there I’m probably a little more understanding than some of those other members …”

The paper added:

“Mr Smith said he was paid £80,000 a year to lobby for Pfizer.”

Pfizer eventually dropped the bid.

There have been suspicions that Owen Smith was paid far more than £80,000, so Press Gang did some digging.

Back in 2006, when he was working for Pfizer and contesting the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election, The Times sent two reporters to the constituency.

Their report contained the following statement:

“The Labour Party’s candidate for Westminster, Owen Smith, a … £200,000-a-year lobbyist for Pfizer ….””

We asked Owen Smith which was true: the £80,000 a year he told the Sunday Telegraph or The Times which said it was £200,000?

At the time we went to press, he had not replied.

♦♦♦

OWEN SMITH left Pfizer in 2008 and went to work in a similar role for the pharmaceutical company Amgen.

In 2010 he was selected as the Labour candidate for the safe Pontypridd constituency.

Again, he insists that his family and friends played no part in his selection.

One of these friends is Kim Howells, the MP who held the seat for Labour and had decided to step down at the 2010 election.

Howells is an old friend of Dai Smith and knows his son well.

Kim Howells MP
KIM HOWELLS
THE LABOUR politician held the safe Labour seat of Pontypridd for 21 years. Although he’s a friend of Dai Smith, and knows his son well, Owen Smith insists Howells played no part in his selection for one of the safest Labour seats in the UK.
Photo: PA

Owen Smith’s press team told us:

“The suggestion Kim helped Owen in his selection as the candidate for Pontypridd is also entirely false.”

“Whilst it is correct that Kim knew Dai, at no stage did Kim support or endorse Owen’s candidature.”

Once again Press Gang went back to the newspaper cuttings.

In a Western Mail report on Owen Smith’s selection in March 2010, the paper reported that he’d been selected after a second round of voting, winning by 104 votes to 74.

The article then states:

“Mr Smith … was supported by Kim Howells …”

Press Gang asked Owen Smith to clear up the contradiction.

There had been no reply by the time this article was published.

When Owen Smith was elected Labour MP for Pontypridd, he sold his Surrey home for £745,000.

♦♦♦ 

THE PROBLEM with Owen Smith is no-one knows what he really stands for.

In 2006 The Independent called him a “dyed-in-the-wool” New Labourite.

Now he’s the man to carry out the old Labour policies Jeremy Corbyn has revived.

Which of these two Owen Smiths is the real one?

Or is he just a political chameleon?

The manner in which he and his team have dealt with his past career is disturbing.

Take his political commitment.

“I grew up in South Wales during the miners’ strike, he says, “That’s when I came alive politically.”

He adds that he then joined the Labour Party in 1986.

Yet between 1986 and his selection as Labour candidate in the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election — two entire decades — there’s no evidence at all of any involvement in labour Party politics.

He doesn’t seem to have served a political apprenticeship at all.

Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, was active in politics while at school, became a trade union official at 21 and a London councillor at 24.

In fact, Owen Smith’s career is much closer to David Cameron’s — a spell as a special adviser and years working in the corporate affairs of a major company.

When Smith says —

“I want to be a force for good in the world. Therefore, you need to achieve power. Nye Bevan, my great hero, said it’s all about achieving and exercising power. I’ve devoted my life to that.”

 — it’s the last sentence that rings false.

He’s been an active politician for just six years.

His attempt to push back from suggestions that his father helped his career is unconvincing.

He seems to believe any hint of nepotism and patronage is toxic to his reputation.

He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not so much the fact that his father helped him — it’s the fact that he seeks to deny it.

He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not so much what his salary was at Pfizer —  a huge salary is inevitable when working for a global combine — it’s the fact that he seeks to minimise it.

It’s a question of personal integrity.

If he can’t be trusted to give a true account of his own career, how can he be trusted to be the custodian of the values which Jeremy Corbyn has brought back into mainstream politics?

♦♦♦

THIS INVESTIGATION continues.

A crowdfunding project has been launched on the By-line site here.

♦♦♦
Published: 8 August 2016
© Press Gang
♦♦♦

Notes
1. The first part of this investigation was published on August 3 — Owen Smith: Forged By Patronage and Nepotism? Click on the title to read it.
2. Press Gang editor Paddy French declares personal interests in this story.
— in the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade.
— he’s one of the thousands of traditional Labour voters who have joined the party following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader. He will be voting for Corbyn in the Leadership election.
3. The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?
4. The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

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2 Responses to OWEN SMITH: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

  1. tim richards says:

    Paddy !

    and excellent piece of work – why don’t you send it to Private Eye?

    Tim

  2. tim richards says:

    Hi Paddy

    have you sent this to Private Eye?

    I had been doing a bit of research on him myself – and there are some shenanigans going on with his nomination by Blaenau Gwent too

    If you haven’t sen it to Private Eye I could use some of this in article I was doing and of course I would give you credit for the info

    Tim

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