Score draw as Angela Eagle and Owen Smith set out their stalls to PLP
But did Smith subsequently mess up with comments about being 'normal'?
The two contenders to take on Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership are said to be neck and neck after Angela Eagle and Owen Smith addressed MPs and peers today.
The pair spoke at a special hustings event in a packed committee room in the Palace of Westminster.
It comes as Labour MPs are trying to decide who should be the ‘unity candidate’ to run against Corbyn.
A ballot to decide who will face off against Corbyn starts at 7pm on Monday evening, with a mid-way tally announced on Tuesday at 5pm. The final result will be announced on Wednesday at 6pm.
In her pitch to MPs, Eagle is said to have stressed her working class roots. “I haven't learnt my politics - I have lived it,” she declared.
She spoke persuasively about the threat posed to Labour by Ukip and was applauded for condemning the harassment and intimidation of those in the party have been standing up to Corbyn.
In one striking (if slightly cheesy) ready-prepared section of her speech, she said: “Haven’t we had enough of abuse, antisemitism and misogyny? When it comes to bricks and windows, Labour used to build houses and open windows to a more tolerant society.”
As MPs streamed out of committee room 14, some suggested that Eagle had performed better than expected.
“Angela had the best one liners,” said one MP. But the same MP expressed concern over Eagle’s reluctance to say that she would stand aside if Smith had more support than her.
In his speech, Smith pledged to stand aside for Eagle if she won more support from MPs. He also talked up his opponent, saying he would be happy to work under her as leader.
But he claimed that he was better placed to unify the party. He also impressed many MPs with his remarks about how to win back working class voters.
With lobby journalists gathered outside of the room afterwards, one of the biggest crowds had soon formed around Chris Bryant, a supporter of Smith.
Bryant told reporters: “He’s standing to be the unity candidate, to unite the party. That’s his strongest emotional pitch. If he’s not able to deliver that because more people are supporting another candidate, obviously he would stand aside and he would be happy to support Angela,” he said.
“But I personally think, I think a lot of people as a result of what we saw in there will see Owen as a future prime minister and a unifier of the party and they’ll plump for him.”
However soon afterwards, Smith risked controversy as he declared himself to be “normal” – and cited his “wife and three children” as evidence of that.
The Pontypridd MP was appearing on Sky News when he made the comments, which some Westminster wags referred to as his ‘Andrew Leadsom moment’.
Responding to MailOnline reporter Matt Dathan, Smith said: “I’m glad you think I’m normal. I am normal. I grew up in a normal household. I’ve got a wife and three children. My wife is a primary school teacher.
“I’ve been in Parliament for six years, before that I had two or three other jobs, in business, in politics and advising the peace process in Northern Ireland.”
Smith’s comments appeared to suggest if he were unmarried, or didn’t have children, he would somehow be something other than normal. However, his allies insisted that comment was not in any way levelled at his Labour leadership opponent, one of the first openly gay woman MP
“He was just trying to say that he is an ordinary person, proud to live and represent his own community in Parliament,” said an aide.
Photos: Press Association