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13 July 2016

Owen Smith to become second challenger to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

The former shadow work and pensions secretary is to throw his hat in the ring. 

By Julia Rampen

Owen Smith, who resigned from the shadow Cabinet in June, has announced he will stand as a second challenger to Jeremy Corbyn later today. 

The embattled Labour leader will be included automatically on the ballot, Labour’s National Executive Committee ruled last night.

Unlike Corbyn, Smith needs the nomination of 51 MPs or MEPs to stand. 

He said the party needs to heal, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that: “We need to turn the page.”

Jeremy Corbyn could not “win for Labour”, he added. 

Smith previously declared he was ready to do “whatever it takes” to stop the party imploding. He made the announcement after speaking to Labour members in his constituency.

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But the announcement appears to come after days of flip flopping, with Smith only two days previously denying he would make a bid for the top job.

Former shadow Business secretary Angela Eagle has already declared she will challenge Corbyn, but there are fears her record of voting for the war in Iraq and bombing in Syria will haunt her.

Smith is expected to position himself to Eagle’s left, particularly on anti-austerity policies.

Who is Owen Smith?

The Labour MP for Pontypridd won his seat in 2010. A former radio producer and special adviser, he quickly earned a seat on the shadow front bench. In 2012, Ed Miliband appointed him to the shadow Cabinet, as shadow secretary of state for Wales. Unlike some of his shadow Cabinet colleagues from the Miliband era, Smith kept his Cabinet seat under Corbyn, where he served as shadow Work and Pensions secretary. But in June, after the Brexit vote, he joined other MPs in a mass resignation in protest at Corbyn’s leadership. 

In January, while still in his post, he told The New Statesman he was interested in being Labour leader and “it would be “an incredible honour and privilege” to do the job.

Asked whether he would stand in the future, the former shadow Welsh secretary said: “I don’t think there’s any vacancy right now. But I think any politician who comes into this to want to try and change the world for the better, starting with their own patch and working outwards, I think they’re either in the wrong game or fibbing if they don’t say, ‘if you had the opportunity to be in charge and put in place your vision for a better Britain would you take it?’ Yeh, of course, it would be an incredible honour and privilege to be able to do that.” 

Smith emphasised, however, that he expected Corbyn to lead Labour into the 2020 general election and offered a more unambiguous endorsement than some of his shadow cabinet colleagues. “Jeremy is going to lead us into the election, he’s the leader of the Labour Party … He’s said very, very clearly that he wants to take us into the next election, he won a stonking great majority. Jeremy is going to be taking us into the election in 2020. End of.”