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Jeremy Corbyn vows to reach out to all Labour MPs if he is confirmed as leader

Published 21/09/2016

Tom Watson put forward a plan for MPs to vote on membership of the shadow cabinet
Tom Watson put forward a plan for MPs to vote on membership of the shadow cabinet

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised to "wipe the slate clean" and work with challenger Owen Smith and other internal critics if he is confirmed as leader on Saturday.

In a statement released after polling closed in the long-running leadership battle, Mr Corbyn said he plans to hold discussions with Labour MPs over the coming days in a bid to heal the rift which saw him lose a confidence vote among the parliamentary party by a margin of 172-40.

In a message to critics in the parliamentary party, he demanded an end to "sniping and personal attacks" and said that Labour MPs have a responsibility to "respect the leadership" of whoever is elected.

With Mr Corbyn installed by bookies as all-but-certain favourite to retain his leadership, Mr Smith came close to conceding defeat by saying that he will not accept a place in his shadow cabinet.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the BBC, Mr Corbyn set his face against proposals from deputy leader Tom Watson to return to the electoral college system which gave MPs and unions more say over the choice of a leader.

"I don't think that's a very good way of doing things," he said, adding: "I think we have to stick with one-member one-vote."

Asked whether he would change in response to criticisms of his leadership style if he wins a second mandate, he told interviewer Laura Kuenssberg: "Sadly for everyone, it's the same Jeremy Corbyn."

In a statement following the close of polls, Mr Corbyn said: "As far as I am concerned, the slate will be wiped clean this weekend.

"If I am re-elected leader, I will reach out to and work with all Labour MPs to form a broad and effective opposition to this divisive and floundering Tory government.

"I will build on the broad policy agreement that stretches across our party, based on a clear anti-austerity agenda. And I will work to create a strong leadership team for our party, inside and outside Parliament, based on respect for each other and for all those who rely on Labour to defend their interests.

"In the next few days, I will be holding discussions with MPs and others about the best way to cement a new working relationship with the Parliamentary Labour Party, as we democratise our party and its structures.

"All Labour party members and MPs have a responsibility to work within the democracy of our party and respect the leadership of whoever is elected.

"We owe it to the millions of people Labour exists to represent to end the sniping and personal attacks, and work together for all those who depend on the election of a Labour government. Anything else would be destructive self-indulgence."

Mr Corbyn said that regardless of the outcome of the leadership contest, "I will want to work with Owen Smith and all members of our party".

But the former work and pensions spokesman ruled out a return to the shadow cabinet which he quit in June along with a raft of senior Labour figures.

Mr Smith told the BBC News Channel: "I don't think he can rebuild Labour's reputation in the country, so I won't be serving in Jeremy's cabinet.

"But I will do what I've always done, which is be Labour, vote Labour, loyally serve this party and make sure from the backbenches I continue to make the arguments I've made during this campaign, in order to get Labour seen once more as credible, get us back on the front foot and get us back into power."

Mr Corbyn told the BBC he had had "an awful lot of calls" over the past few days from Labour MPs who wanted the party to "come together" after the leadership contest is over.

" I invite them, if I get a second mandate on Saturday morning, to come on board, work together - as we have in the past and will in the future ," he said.

Mr Corbyn insisted it was possible for Labour to win a general election in 2020 by building on the "unprecedented" levels of enthusiasm which have made it the biggest political party in Europe, with more than half a million members, and seen large crowds attend his campaign rallies across the country.

Next week's annual conference in Liverpool will be "the turning point" for Labour, he predicted.

Asked whether he would be able to do better than former leader Michael Foot in translating the large numbers who turned out to see him speak into electoral success, Mr Corbyn replied: "Michael Foot did a great job and did his best. We are going to do even better."

Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) has put off a decision on MPs' demand to be allowed to elect members of Mr Corbyn's shadow cabinet.

Despite meeting for almost nine hours on Tuesday, the NEC was unable to reach a decision on the proposal put forward by Mr Watson.

Mr Corbyn said he was "looking at all democratic alternatives" and suggested that he supports moves to increase representation of the grassroots membership - among whom he enjoys strong support - on the NEC.

But he played down suggestions that he favours a role for members in choosing the shadow cabinet team, stressing "the necessity of a leader being able to appoint key positions in the shadow cabinet".

Around 640,000 people were eligible to vote in the election sparked by Mr Smith's challenge.

They included not only full party members, but also trade union affiliates and registered supporters who paid £25 for the right to vote.

Mr Corbyn told the BBC that "the party made a great deal of money from them".

He won last year's leadership race with 59.5% of the vote - and is widely tipped to win by a wider margin this time, with a recent YouGov poll for The Times putting him on 62%.

Graham Sharpe, of bookmaker William Hill, said: "All of the serious money staked from a £60,000 bet downwards has been for a convincing Corbyn victory."

But Mr Corbyn's first wife, Jane Chapman, revealed that she voted for the " more flexible and media savvy" Mr Smith.

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