Who is Owen Smith, the previously unknown Welsh MP who wants to be Prime Minister?

The former journalist whose guilty pleasure is 'too many beers' keen to take on Jeremy Corbyn

Maya Oppenheim
Wednesday 20 July 2016 16:35 BST
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Despite getting involved in the Labour party at a young age, Mr Smith did a number of jobs before deciding to embark on a political career
Despite getting involved in the Labour party at a young age, Mr Smith did a number of jobs before deciding to embark on a political career (Getty)

For those outside of Westminster, Owen Smith is a name likely to prompt blank stares. The man challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership is far from a household name and remains relatively unknown outside of political circles.

However, this is quickly changing. Since Angela Eagle decided to pull out of the leadership race on Tuesday after receiving 20 votes less from MPs and MEPs than him, Mr Smith has become the sole contender to take on Mr Corbyn.

The MP for Pontypridd in Wales and former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary put himself forward as the ‘unity’ candidate, arguing he was the person to bring Labour forward and heal the party’s deep divisions.

Mr Smith, who has been labelled as a ‘soft left’ candidate, previously said that while he shares many of Mr Corbyn’s values, he is more of a moderniser and is “pro-prosperity”. But who is the 46-year-old politician who has called himself the people's "champion"?

He comes from an ordinary background

Born in Morecambe in Lancashire, a Northern seaside town close to Blackpool, Mr Smith comes from a fairly ordinary background. He was state educated at Barry Boys' Comprehensive School in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. It was here that he first became involved in politics, joining the Labour party at the age of 16 while he was still a pupil. He has since credited the 1984 miners' strike as his “political awakening”.

Like his father Professor Dai Smith, a Welsh historian, he went on to study History and French at the University of Sussex.

He worked for a pharmaceutical giant lobbyist

Despite being involved in the Labour party from a young age, Mr Smith undertook a number of jobs before deciding to embark on a political career. After leaving university, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer in 1992. His father was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.

Mr Smith spent a decade working on network radio and television programmes, including BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, and has been described as a member of the “Taffia” - the Welsh political and media establishment.

As an overzealous young BBC producer, he once called 999 demanding he was put through to a chief constable, a mistake which prompted an official complaint from the Metropolitan Police. The incident is something he has since described as “really stupid and very embarrassing”.

Following this, he worked as a special advisor to Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy and later as Head of Government relations for lobbyist pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on a lucrative salary reported to be in the region of £80,000 a year.

His seat was previously held by a friend of his fathers

Mr Smith became the Labour MP for Pontypridd in 2010 and won the safe seat with a reduced majority. It was previously held by Kim Howells, a friend of his father. He tripled his majority in 2015 and was re-elected to the seat.

In May 2012, the former Labour leader Ed Miliband appointed him to his Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Wales. He went on to become the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary last September.

He has previously harboured hopes of becoming leader

There had been talk that Mr Smith would become leader in the wake of Ed Miliband’s departure but this quickly blew over when Mr Corbyn was elected. Speaking to the New Statesman in January, he said it would be “an incredible honour and privilege” to lead Labour but said there was not a vacancy at that time.

He stirred controversy for his description of his nuclear heterosexual family

Mr Smith recently found himself on the receiving end of a Twitter backlash after talking about his own family in a TV interview. In the interview, he appeared to claim he was normal because he has a wife and children. After a journalist described him as normal, Mr Smith perceived the term as a compliment: “I'm glad you think I am normal. I am normal. I grew up in a normal household. I've got a wife and three children. My wife is a primary school teacher”. Critics accused him of being homophobic towards his former competitor Eagle who is in a civil partnership.

His "guilty pleasure" is "too many beers"

The politician lives in Pontypridd with his wife Liz and three children and enjoys watching rugby at his local club and is a Bruce Springsteen aficionado.

He has previously described his “guilty pleasure” as “too many beers”.

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