Owen Smith drops cautious approach to combat with Jeremy Corbyn
In a lively hustings, the Potypridd MP went to war over Europe, the 'futility' of Corbyn's leadership, his inability to win key seats... and T-shirts.
Owen Smith entered the Labour leadership contest with a pledge to debate Jeremy Corbyn in a “comradely, kind, gentle fashion”.
The shadow former work and pensions secretary was especially keen not to alienate Corbyn supporters from the outset. Rather, he started out by making cautious declarations of affection for his rival.
“Jeremy is owed a debt of gratitude for helping Labour to rediscover its radical routes,” he said immediately after getting the nod from his fellow MPs.
But now comes evidence that Smith has finally abandoned the cautious tone with which he began his campaign.
As the pair went head-to-head in hustings at Gateshead, the Pontypridd MP launched a series of vehement attacks on the Labour leader.
The T-shirt topedo
Smith accused Corbyn of turning Labour into a protest movement focused more on t-shirts than Number Ten. To jeers from the audience, he proclaimed:
“We've had mass rallies, we've had a big party and we've lost successive elections. We know how this one ends, Jeremy, and it doesn’t end well for the working people of Britain. It’s not about the T-shirts we wear or the badges on our lapels; it’s about power….
“It may be uncomfortable but it’s absolutely true”.
The slogan slam
Smith slammed Corbyn’s style of leadership, saying he had been “long on slogans and long on rhetoric and short on policies and short on solution”.
“The rhetoric may well appeal to our base, Jeremy, but it won’t win us back Nuneaton, Cardiff North, Milton Keynes,” Smith added.
The F word
Smith also told his rival he would not take a shadow cabinet post under his leadership because it would be “futile” with nobody listening to Labour.
"I have lost confidence in you… But I would serve Labour on the backbenches, because I am Labour to my bones and I will always be Labour.
"I would not, as Jeremy has done, vote against my party 500 times. I will do what I have always done - vote Labour."
After Corbyn said he had been disappointed with Smith’s recent resignation from the shadow cabinet, Smith had a withering response.
"I don't want it to be futile, fruitless work. I don't want to be engaged in a protest movement, talking to myself," he said.
The Article 50 assault
Smith attacked the Labour leader for being “7/10” in favour of remaining in the EU and now being “10/10” as the UK prepares to quit the bloc. Citing Corbyn's call for the triggering of Article 50 soon after the referendum result came in, he argued:
"Saying trigger Article 50 is like giving David Davis and Liam Fox a blank cheque.”
Smith also suggested Corbyn had failed to fight hard enough against Brexit because he “never really liked the idea of the European Union”.
Corbyn retorted: “Are you becoming a mind-reader?”
To which Smith replied: “I don’t need to be; you told us what you thought for 40 years.”
And... the Corbyn comeback
For his part, Corbyn turned on Smith for adding to the disunity that has damaged the party in the eyes of voters.
He insisted: “Our party is a strong party, our party is a big party, our campaigning abilities are immense if we work together on those campaigns. We have to build and transform our society and give people the confidence things can be done differently in Britain.”
A spokesman for the Labour leader also shot back at Smith's EU comments: "These kinds of smears only show how little Owen Smith has to offer. Jeremy did 122 campaigning events to stay in the EU, considerably fewer than he will do for the leadership campaign and far more than Owen Smith did."
The winner of the contest will be announced on 24 September.
Picture by: Danny Lawson/PA Wire/Press Association Images