Smith Corbyn
Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn Getty

Would you rather be largely ignored or dismissed as a leadership candidate – or at least be talked about but with the 'stench of death' attached to you? Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith, the last two men standing in the battle for the leadership of the Labour Party, look a rather thoroughly dispiriting choice.

It's between the unelectable one who appears to be immovable, or the 'unity' candidate who only seems to unite supporters in distaste. Once the Labour Party had a leadership election to succeed Harold Wilson. It included Tony Benn, James Callaghan, Tony Crosland, Dennis Healey, Michael Foot and Roy Jenkins. Now it's down to a selection of either the unpalatable or the unspeakable.

This must be what it's like to be a Leeds United fan these days – simply remembering past glories with no hope of future ones.

Social-media analysis company Impact Social looked at all discussion of the Labour Party on social media, forums and open-news sites, and filtered them to mentions of either Corbyn or Smith. That left them with 57,000 posts in the past week.

It looks dreadful for one. And disastrous for the other.

The widespread theory has been that the Corbynista act like a swarm on social media, hurtling insults at any perceived threat to Saint Jeremy. There's some evidence that that's the case. It certainly seemed to be the way that Angela Eagle was swept aside. Whether by 'groupthink' or organisation, they pick off the challengers like hyenas on a gazelle. The problem for Owen Smith is that they only seem to like live meat. Worse than being savaged, he's being ignored. And even when he's being noticed, he's being dismissed.


Only a small proportion of that 57,000 talked about Smith at all – a 17% 'share of voice'. And this, remember, is amongst people talking about the Labour Party, the party he wants to lead. The people he's trying to reach cannot even hear him. When they do, it's even worse. Some 94% of the talk around him is negative. That's overwhelming. Not that he's being attacked from all sides, mind you. The accusations are pretty consistent: he's a snake (say 10%), a traitor (say 15%), and he's not a leader (29%). Few of the attacks are especially specific – he's attacked for having no policy (by 12%) and for the one policy he does seem to have, on Trident (by 15%). His lobbying background for Pfizer attracts the scorn of a further 10%.

The positivity about Smith? Well, 25% say 'he's not Corbyn'. So it's a start... although that's also pretty much the end of it.

Corbyn, on the other hand, is merely hugely divisive. In this race to the bottom, that's almost a good thing. The majority of those talking about him are doing so negatively, but, hey, it's only 51%. So, that's good, right? Well, up to a point... Corbyn at least arouses strong emotions, and that does create some levels of positivity. There's no pattern to it, just a sort of general positivity by an enthusiastic (and organised?) cohort, but few give much reasoning – aside from the topicality of Trident which suggest that it's an emotional not a logical attachment to the man, a sense of him being 'the true Labour figure'.


The anti-Corbyn sentiment, in its way, follows that same 'this doesn't feel right' approach of those who dislike Smith. There's the feeling that he's 'bad for Labour' (among 10% of the negative posts), that he's not a leader (26%) and that's he's behind in the polls to the Tories anyhow (10%), and that he's unelectable (7%). Indeed, it's no wonder he's behind – 8% are talking that Labour members prefer Theresa May. That appropriation of Ed Miliband's policies working better for her than it did for him, then.

And 5% talk of the 'stench of death', which is never good.

There's little for anyone who supports Labour to feel cheerful about. Indeed, there's little for anyone who supports British democracy to feel cheerful about. On this evidence, Corbyn will win comfortably, but it will be a hollow crown, and we'll be without an effective opposition until 2020 at best.

A while back, Tony Blair said of the Tories: "If we can't take this lot apart... we shouldn't be in the business of politics'. Now, both candidates for the Labour leadership must be feeling the same about each other.

And they'd both be right.