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Owen Smith pledges more power for Labour Party members

Published 22/08/2016

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a leadership campaign rally in London
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a leadership campaign rally in London

Owen Smith has promised to hand over more power to party members and give them final sign-off on manifesto pledges as the race to be Labour leader enters its final month.

Mr Smith is locked in a fierce leadership contest with Jeremy Corbyn, with the winner due to be announced on September 24.

The first ballot papers for the election were being sent out on Monday to the estimated 640,000 members and supporters who will be tasked with choosing between the pair.

Both candidates are expected to kick their campaigns up a gear as the race to win support intensifies.

Mr Smith used a speech in Porth in South Wales on Monday to make a pitch to members that he will listen to their concerns.

The Pontypridd MP also sought to distance himself from New Labour governments, which he accused of hiding away from the party's principles.

He called for a "revolution in accountability" as he reiterated a pledge to create a shadow cabinet of party members to advise the leadership, and also vowed to "turbo-charge" the party's national policy forum.

Mr Smith then promised to empower the party's conference.

He said: "My promise to the party is I will not ignore conference. I will bind myself to the decisions made by conference on party policy.

"I will not seek to overturn it whatever my views, but I will seek to influence it."

He added: "Crucially, I will give conference a new role and a responsibility in our party to sign off on our manifesto.

"No Labour leader has done this before and I believe it is necessary to reassure people across the party that there will be no backsliding on my watch."

Mr Smith's intervention comes after Mr Corbyn pledged to strengthen trade union bargaining powers if he becomes prime minister.

Proposals unveiled by Mr Corbyn include mandatory collective bargaining in firms with more than 250 employees, the election of staff representatives to executive remuneration committees, and the introduction of "sectoral union bargaining rights".

The Labour leader said his proposed changes to trade union rights would form part of a wider package of reforms to "democratise our country from the ground up".

Mr Corbyn also promised the "radical devolution of power" from Whitehall to local councils, regions, and the devolved administrations, the replacement of the House of Lords with an elected second chamber, as well as new "citizens' assemblies".

Mr Smith appeared to criticise the Labour governments led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as he said the party must never return to having "two blokes at the top of the party talking down to the rest of the movement".

The former shadow work and pensions secretary said the party's leadership could have "got it right" on issues like the Iraq War if it had listened to members.

He also accused those Labour governments of having "made a virtue out of avoiding talking about our principles and our roots".

"I'm afraid to say we also sometimes hid away from our principles too with that New Labour mantra that what matters is what works," he said.

"What works cannot trump what is right," he added.

Mr Corbyn is deemed to be the frontrunner in the leadership contest but Mr Smith's campaign received a major boost after he was endorsed by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Mention of Mr Khan's name was met with jeers and boos at a rally of Mr Corbyn's supporters in north London on Sunday.

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