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11 August 2016

Owen Smith will pick the back benches over a Jeremy Corbyn shadow cabinet

The challenger MP declared he was "Labour to my bones".

By Julia Rampen

Jeremy Corbyn has declared himself “disappointed” after his rival Owen Smith appeared to rule out the chance of serving in his shadow cabinet.

Smith, previously the shadow minister for work and pensions, joined the wave of resignations after the Brexit vote. He has suggested in the past he could rejoin the shadow cabinet.

But asked if he would be prepared to rejoin the cabinet at the Labour hustings in Gateshead, he declared: “I will serve Labour on the back benches. I am Labour to my bones.

“I won’t do what Jeremy did and vote against my party 500 times. I’ll do what I always did, vote Labour.”

Corbyn responded: “That is genuinly disappointing to me. I was pleased when you accepted DWP I was disappointed when you resigned it.”

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Smith hit back: “I don’t want it to be futile, fruitless work. I don’t want to be engaged in a protest movement, talking to myself.”

Europe: Corbyn’s unprotected flank

On schools, railways and wages, the main difference between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith is who you think can actually deliver. Both are against academies, want to renationalise railways, and  think low-paid workers deserve more. 

It comes down to character and approach. Corbyn promises change through grassroots movement. Smith suggests you need to capture power at the top. Corbyn is an idealist who seems mildly outraged at the world. Smith sounds frustrated at standing on the sidelines. 

But ask them about Europe, and you’ll find stark opposition. 

Smith sounds like a man in denial (and in doing so captures the zeitgeist of the 48 per cent). Speaking at the Labour hustings in Gateshead, he declared: “I don’t accept that we’re necessarily leaving Europe. I don’t want us to leave Europe.”

“Once the lies about immigration and the NHS are cleared away”, he said when we find out what’s really on offer, “if it is a worse deal than Britain expected, we should say no.”

Smith is most convincing when he’s passionate, and he was ringing with emotion on the EU, and Corbyn’s failure to back it 100 per cent.

When Corbyn said he wanted to build alliances with “anti-austerity” parties across Europe, Smith seized on it. 

He said: “Other countries are plotting a more protectionist, introspective future for themselves and you want to work with them.

“I’m worried that what this reveals is you were never really in favour of the EU.”

The irony of Smith’s position is he, as the MP of a small town Welsh constituency, is far less protected from the forces of Euroscepticism than Corbyn, MP of Islington North.