Owen Smith, the defeated Labour leadership candidate, has warned his party under Jeremy Corbyn needs to do more to be viewed by the British public as one on the centre-left.
In his first interview since the decisive leadership announcement 12 days ago, Mr Smith, Labour’s former shadow work and pensions secretary, appeared to urge Mr Corbyn to appeal to voters after Theresa May used her final conference speech to make a land-grab for the centre ground of British politics.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the MP for Pontypridd said he believed “politics is fought and won in the centre ground” and that Labour needs to be a centre-left party. “I don’t think at the moment we’re being perceived as that in the country – that was the core argument I made this summer,” Mr Smith said.
“But I also made lots of the arguments Theresa May is now making about the need to borrow to invest in infrastructure… but I don’t think she will do it, I think this is another chimera from the Tories.”
Asked whether he had spoken to Jeremy Corbyn since the contest, he replied: “I haven’t spoken to Jeremy since, no – other than to congratulate him on what was obviously a very decisive win. I’ve exchanged one text with him and I’m sure I’ll see him on Monday.
Mr Smith also said he was “sticking to the position” that he would not rejoin Mr Corbyn’s shadow Cabinet. “Given what I’ve said about where we’ve gone with Jeremy and how we are not making the inroads in with the Tories and into the public popularity that we need in order to form a Labour government and have a prospect for a progressive government in this country then I can’t serve alongside him.
He added: “I think it’s now time to unite and present a real alternative to the Tories.”
In an echo of a speech she had given to her own party a decade ago, Ms May added in her final conference speech: “You know what some people call them? The nasty party.” When asked about the remark Mr Smith responded: “She’s right that we’ve been nasty to each other a lot recently but I think there’s a big difference between a bit of nasty debate within the Labour party and where the Tories have been for the last six years while Theresa May has been part of that Cabinet which has been nasty to the British public.”
“Truthfully, we’ve heard all it before – there must be collective amnesia in the press this morning. I remember David Cameron starting his term in office talking about compassionate conservatism… but the reality of the last six years has been thousands of pounds cut out of the livelihoods of working-class people in this country.
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