Owen Smith launches bid to be 'radical, credible' Labour leader
Owen Smith this morning launched his bid for the Labour leadership, saying he would be a “radical and credible” alternative to Jeremy Corbyn.
PoliticsHome revealed on Monday that Mr Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary, was planning to join Angela Eagle in trying to depose their leader.
The Pontypridd MP, one of more than 60 shadow ministers to quit Labour’s front bench in the past three weeks, pitched himself as a unifying figure - and said Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had told him he would rather see the party split than give into the anti-Corbyn MPs.
Appearing on the Today programme, Mr Smith said recent events had made him reconsider Jeremy Corbyn’s suitability to lead the party.
“The last couple of weeks changed and I think the dramatic collapse of faith and confidence in Jeremy and the widespread belief now in the Labour party that whilst Jeremy is a good man with great Labour values who has done a lot for this party and I think changed the debate in this country about our economy, he’s been right about lots of things,” he said.
“But he is not a leader who can lead us into an election and win for Labour and working people in this country cannot afford to have a day like today where the Tories are popping champagne corks and celebrating their coronation and the prospect of a Labour government feels so distant for working people.
“We can’t afford that in Labour, we need to turn the page.”
He also sought to distance himself from any suggestions of a plot against Mr Corbyn, insisting that it was a small faction of right wing MPs who had been guilty of attempting a coup.
“I was not ever part of any plot or coup against Jeremy Corbyn, I refused to have any part in those discussions and I think it has been destructive from a small group of people on the right who, just like those on the left, it seems to me, are now prepared to see Labour split,” he said.
MCDONNELL 'PART OF THE PROBLEM'
But he reserved his strongest criticism for Mr McDonnell, who caused further controversy last night by branding Labour plotters “f*cking useless”.
“That’s not language he should be using as Shadow Chancellor, it’s certainly not language I would be using but the truth is John McDonnell is part of the problem we have in the Labour party.
“I want this to be resolved without a damaging, divisive leadership contest. I wanted Jeremy Corbyn to find a way to heal the Labour party, to bring us back and unite us.
“I’ve put that to him on three occasions, but to John McDonnell I said I feared he had decided that people on his part of the party wanted to split the Labour party and he said to me, he shrugged his shoulders and said ‘if that’s what it takes’. I am not prepared to stand by and let the Labour party, the party I love, that has been the greatest force for good in this country, split – it cannot happen."
Mr McDonnell did not outright deny having made the remark when it was put to him today, but said he had “no recollection” of the exchange.
PoliticsHome has learned that support for Mr Smith is growing among Labour MPs, with some who had nominated Ms Eagle's leadership bid already switching sides to back her rival.
Labour's national executive committee last night ruled that Mr Corbyn should be on the ballot paper automatically.
The new Labour leader will be announced in September.