Jeremy Corbyn allies blast 'Blair-lite' challenger Owen Smith - report
Allies of Jeremy Corbyn have hit out at Labour leadership rival Owen Smith, branding the MP a 'Blair-lite' candidate and slamming his lobbyist past.
Mr Smith, who secured the spot of 'unity candidate' against Mr Corbyn after Angela Eagle dropped out of the race, used to work as head of government affairs for US drug company Pfizer.
In his £80,000-a-year role Mr Smith appeared to support a greater role for private companies in the NHS – in line with Pfizer company policy.
He said in October 2005: “We believe that choice is a good thing and that patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda.”
According to The Times, an ally of Mr Corbyn seized on Mr Smith's past and argued Labour members would do likewise.
“Bring on the Blair-lite candidate,” the ally apparently told the paper.
“Our members won’t be fooled by a TV-savvy turncoat who lobbied for big pharma and Tony Blair.”
Another source close to Mr Corbyn said: "With Angela as the rightwing candidate, it would have been easier for Owen to pull off some of our vote and then grab all of Angela’s second preferences in a run off...
“In some respects, he’s an easier beast to fight, as it’s obvious now to voters that he’s the Blair-lite candidate and he can’t hide it any more.”
A spokesperson for Mr Smith said: “Owen has been crystal clear that he is 100% committed to a fully publicly owned NHS, free at the point of use. He has repeatedly argued passionately for this.”
Ms Eagle made the decision to quit the race after it emerged Mr Smith had received the most backing so far from Labour MPs and MEPs.
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."
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 yesterday 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.