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Corbyn and Blair 'not radical enough', says Owen Smith

Published 26/07/2016

Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith claims Jeremy Corbyn's 'metropolitan' politics are at odds with party traditions about national identity
Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith claims Jeremy Corbyn's 'metropolitan' politics are at odds with party traditions about national identity

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith has likened Jeremy Corbyn to political nemesis Tony Blair, claiming they have both failed to be radical enough.

The former frontbencher said it was time for the party to be "less timid" as he described himself as "massively to the left" of Mr Blair.

Mr Corbyn has "not been bold enough" and has "something in common" with the former Prime Minister, Mr Smith said.

He told BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine programme: " Crucially, I think we need to be less timid, as we speak, I think Jeremy and Tony have got something in common in that respect, neither of them has been very forthright when it comes to really radical policies to change things."

Mr Corbyn rebelled hundreds of times when Mr Blair was leader and has called for the ex-premier to be "held to account" for the Iraq war.

"I think Jeremy has shared some of the traits of New Labour in that he's not been bold enough," Mr Smith added. "We have not put pen to paper on policy in almost any area in the last nine months.

"Some of the big victories he talks about, tax credits for example, getting the Government to row back on that, getting it to row back on cuts to disabled people, well, I led those, I led that opposition in Parliament.

Mr Smith said he " didn't start" the attempt to oust Mr Corbyn, insisting he "wasn't part of the coup" and "didn't know anything about it".

Britain should be "borrowing to invest" and " obsessing " over the deficit since 2010 had been "utterly self defeating", he said.

"I'm very clear that we need to spend more money," Mr Smith told the programme.

The former shadow work and pensions secretary said it was "ironic" that Conservatives were saying "we should be borrowing to invest".

"Why in Labour we have been so slow to make that argument is beyond me," he added.

Mr Smith insisted he was "not ashamed" of his work as head of policy at Pfizer, adding "you have got to live in the real world" about the role the pharmaceuticals companies play.

Mr Corbyn is fighting a legal battle over his place in the contest, after he was automatically named on the ballot paper without having to secure nominations from the party's MPs.

Labour donor Michael Foster, a former parliamentary candidate, has brought a claim at London's High Court against the party's general secretary Iain McNicol, who is being sued in a representative capacity, and Mr Corbyn.

As the two begin their summer battle, the latest poll shows Labour could be paying the price for the infighting.

An opinion poll shows Labour's share of the vote has fallen a further 2% to 27%, the lowest since October 2009, according to ICM.

The survey of voting intentions put the Conservatives ahead by 16-points, up 4% to 43%, compared to a similar ICM poll two weeks ago.

ICM's Martin Boon added: "Clearly, the relative calm associated with the handover of power from David Cameron to Theresa May, allied to the current Labour leadership challenge weighs heavily on electors' minds."

Both Ukip and the Lib Dem's popularity has also fallen, each by 1%, to 13% and 8% respectively.

ICM interviewed 2,012 adults online between July 22 and 24.

Meanwhile, 500 Labour councillors from the across the country have pledged their support for Mr Smith.

A letter signed by the local politicians and published on LabourList.org, a centre-left blogsite independent of the party, said Mr Corbyn's opponent had made a convincing case that he "knows how to get things done".

It said: "The next general election has already begun. Owen Smith, with his experience, especially as shadow secretary of state fighting austerity, has a firm grasp of the issues and will be prepared to lead our party from day one.

"Our party needs a leader who can win and is principled."

It warned that Labour must come together behind a unifying leader to end the bullying and intimidation of members on both sides of the party.

"There are militants in both wings of our Party who are determined to carry out a civil war against each other, whether it harms working people or not," it said.

"We have intimidation and bullying in Constituency Labour Parties up and down the country. We have those who seem to prefer perpetual division to the job of winning power for the good of those we represent.

"We need a unifying leader who is principled and competent."

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