Labour’s big beasts lock horns as Smith and Corbyn go head to head

Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith.
Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith.
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Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith has accused the Conservative Government of “destroying Labour’s legacy” and said he is the man to beat.

He made the comments this evening as he set out his stall for the Labour leadership in the first head to head debate with Jeremy Corbyn.

Speaking in front of an audience of several hundred in Cardiff, he said: “I think I’m the person who’s got the ideas in this debate.

“I think I’m the person who’s got the energy in the debate and I think I see very clearly that we’ve not been what we need to be in recent months - which is a powerful, credible opposition to the Tory Party.

“They are riding roughshod over us - we have left Europe, we have got an NHS that is practically bankrupt, they are destroying Labour’s legacy, ruining our Sure Start, overcrowding our schools.

“And we have got to carry the fight to the Tories much more rigorously than we have done in recent months.”

Mr Smith said he led the Labour opposition to disability cuts, adding: “I know how to fight these Tories and I know how to win”.

Earlier, the Mayor of London warned that history had shown the Labour Party that splits lead to years in the political wilderness.

Labour politician Sadiq Khan, who was elected in May, said that a “divided Labour Party” loses elections in an interview with Sky News hours before Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith went head to head.

Mr Khan, who refused to publicly back either side for leadership delivered a thinly-veiled critique of Mr Owen’s campaigning rhetoric.

He said: “History tells us that when the Labour Party is divided, when the Labour Party is split, we lose elections, not once, twice, three times... but four times in a row. The last time we split was in the early 1980s. So I strongly advise against people talking about splits or against our party being divided after the election.”

He said the next leader will have to heal the party as splits do not lead to victory at General Elections any sooner.

Reflecting on his own few months in office he said whoever wins must have the capacity to take the party back into Government.

He said: “I’m a firm believer in changing people’s lives for the better by winning elections and hopefully I’ve shown over the past 13 to 14 weeks the difference Labour winning elections can make and it’s important that the Labour movement choses a leader at the end of the process that gives us the best chance possible of winning the next General Election.”

Mr Corbyn’s appearance in Cardiff tonight followed the launch of his ten point plan for the party in Dagenham, east London, as he attempted to flesh out his policies on homes, taxes, a National Investment Bank and £500bn of infrastructure investment.

Mr Corbyn said: “I’m sure no Labour MP would even dream of walking away from the family of the Labour movement - the family of the Labour Party that helped to put them in Parliament.”

The next head-to-head debates will be in Gateshead on Thursday August 11, Nottinghamshire on August 17, Birmingham on August 18, Glasgow on August 25 and London on September 1. The leadership result is due on September 24.

The Conservatives have said both men’s multi-billion pound spending pledges are wildly unrealistic.

A party spokesperson said: “Whoever wins Labour’s leadership auction, it is clear that the British people will be the losers, as Labour will spend, borrow and tax even more than they did last time.