Owen Smith: I would push the nuclear button
Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith has said he would be prepared to authorise the use of Britain’s nuclear weapons.
As he set out his platform to party members, Mr Smith also said he would offer Jeremy Corbyn the post of Labour president if he deposed him as leader, and hit back at “lies” about his views on the National Health Service.
He emerged as the anti-Corbyn “unity candidate” last night when Angela Eagle announced she was dropping her candidacy.
Mr Smith has been careful not to attack Mr Corbyn on policy issues, but one dividing line has been his support for the Trident nuclear deterrent.
He backed a government motion supporting renewal of the system on Monday, while Mr Corbyn opposed it – and spoke out against Labour’s official policy in favour of Trident.
Speaking this morning, Mr Smith said that as Prime Minister he would launch a nuclear attack if the circumstances dictated.
“Yes, is the unfortunate answer to that,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“If you are serious about defence and serious about having a nuclear deterrent then you have to be prepared to do that.”
In the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Corbyn said he would never authorise such a strike, adding that he did not believe “the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way of going about international relations”.
Prime Minister Theresa May, however, responded with a blunt “yes” when she was challenged by the SNP on the same issue.
“The whole point of a deterrent is that our enemies need to know that we would be prepared to use it,” she said.
Mr Smith’s past employment at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has come under scrutiny since his candidacy was announced.
Allies of Mr Corbyn have attacked the Pontypridd MP for putting his name to a press release in 2005 which said that “that choice is a good thing and... patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda” for the health service.
The unnamed sources told The Times Mr Smith was the “Blair-lite” candidate in the race.
Mr Smith said this morning that any suggestion he was backing more market involvement in the NHS was untrue.
“That is the allegation, but it’s clearly a lie, let’s be blunt,” he said.
“Of course it’s a lie. I believe in a 100% publicly-owned NHS free at the point of use, I always have done.”
He rebuked the last Labour administration for giving cover to the Conservatives to push private provision further in the NHS.
“In hindsight my view is that we opened the door to the current government to step from that into a real attempt to marketise and privatise the NHS, using the language of the last Labour government, the language of choice as a Trojan horse to argue for privatisation. But I want to be completely clear with you: I have never advocated the privatisation of the NHS.”
Mr Smith quit his frontbench post of Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary as part of a wave of Labour resignations to try to force Mr Corbyn out.
He said he had urged Mr Corbyn to stand aside and take up a symbolic post of party president or chairman – an offer he promised to extend again if he was victorious in the leadership contest.
“Jeremy has a way of communicating that many of our members find very appealing,” Mr Smith told the Today programme.
“Jeremy has great Labour values and Jeremy has still got a lot to say for the Labour party. But I don’t think Jeremy is a leader, I don’t think he’s a leader in Parliament but I do think he’s got a lot to say for Labour and I would absolutely want him to take a role like president or chairman.”
He also said current plans for three head-to-head hustings between him and Mr Corbyn over the course of the summer were inadequate.
Likening himself to the "Duracell bunny", he declared: "I want to debate with Jeremy in every town, every village hall, every city in Britain."