Owen Smith: I can beat Jeremy Corbyn

Posted On: 
19th July 2016

Owen Smith tonight insisted he can upset the odds and beat Jeremy Corbyn to become the next leader of the Labour party.

Owen Smith insists he can beat red-hot favourite Jeremy Corbyn
Credit: 
BBC

The former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary emerged as the 'unity candidate' to take on Mr Corbyn after Angela Eagle dramatically withdrew from the race at 5.30pm.

She made the decision after it emerged Mr Smith had received the most backing so far from Labour MPs and MEPs.

READ: Angela Eagle's full statement as she quit the Labour leadership race

BREAKING: Angela Eagle withdraws from Labour leadership race

Angela Eagle and Owen Smith agree 'unity candidate' deal to take on Jeremy Corbyn

Bookmakers have installed Mr Corbyn as the odds-on favourite to repeat his triumph of a year ago.

But Pontypridd MP Mr Smith told the BBC: "I do think I’ll win. I think I’ve got the ideas and the energy and I think I can persuade the Labour membership that it’s time to move on from Jeremy, it’s time for us to move on to a new generation of politicians and time for us to get ready to be a government once more."

He paid tribute to Mr Corbyn for helping Labour rediscover its roots, but said it was time for the party to be "credible" in the eyes of ordinary voters again.

"The Tories are destroying many of the things that Labour built over decades," he said. "They’re being dismantled piece by piece and Labour cannot stand by on the sidelines and let that happen.

"We have got to fight for our values and to do that we’ve got to be powerful in this place, powerful in our communities and credible. The country has to look at us and say ‘we can imagine these people running this country and doing so better than the Conservatives’.

“That’s the task I’m setting myself, that’s the task I’m setting everybody in Labour and I expect us to achieve it.”

Mr Smith also paid tribute to Ms Eagle and insisted she would be his "right hand woman" - leading to speculation that he has offered her the role of Shadow Chancellor if he becomes leader.

He said: "Angela is a star in the Labour firmament. She will be at my right hand throughout this contest and, if I’m successful, thereafter Angela will be alongside me as my right hand woman."

It is understood that by 4.30 pm, Mr Smith had 90 nominations, compared to Ms Eagle's 70

A source close to Ms Eagle told PoliticsHome: "The numbers were tight and it was still winnable, but the decision was taken that it would be very, very difficult to win.

"It was decided that with 24 hours to go until the deadline for people to register to vote, it would be very powerful if she went down and said she was supporting Owen.

"We thought that clarity for the last 24 hours was important so that people can register to save Labour . That was her primary consideration."

Ms Eagle's withdrawal tees up a two-month battle between incumbent leader Mr Corbyn and Mr Smith, with the winner being announced in Liverpool on 24 September.

A YouGov poll for The Times today showed the scale of the challenge facing former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Smith - who was among dozens of Labour frontbenchers to resign in the wake of the EU referendum.

Mr Corbyn's approval rating among party members has risen four points in the last fortnight to 55%, while 41% think he is doing badly, down from 48%.

Most strikingly, 54% of members say they will back him in the leadership contest, compared to a combined total of just 36% for Mr Smith and Ms Eagle.