UK Politics

Owen Smith says Labour should unite to fight the Conservatives

Owen Smith congratulates Jeremy Corbyn after the election result was announced Image copyright PA
Image caption Owen Smith congratulating Jeremy Corbyn after the election result was announced

Former Labour leadership contender Owen Smith has urged the party to unite to fight the Conservatives - but is still refusing to join the shadow cabinet.

He said he had not spoken to Jeremy Corbyn since their bitter leadership contest, but had exchanged one text.

There are "lots of people" who could help form a frontbench team, he said.

He also dismissed PM Theresa May's "nasty party" jibe about Labour, calling her pitch for the centre ground of politics "synthetic".

He said Mrs May had used her end of conference speech to echo some of the arguments he made during the summer, including the need to borrow to invest in infrastructure, although he added: "I don't think she will do it."

In his first interview since Mr Corbyn defeated him as Labour leader last month, Mr Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The truth is that politics is fought and won in the centre-ground and Labour needs to be a centre-left party and I don't think at the moment we're being perceived as that in the country - and that was the core argument I made throughout this summer."

Asked if he had been in contact with the Labour leader since they went head-to-head, he said: "I haven't spoken to Jeremy since, no, other than to congratulate him on what was obviously a very decisive win. I have exchanged one text with him and I'm sure I'll see him on Monday."

Pressed on whether he had reconsidered his position about not taking a shadow cabinet job, he insisted: "No... Given what I've said about where we have gone with Jeremy, and we're not making the inroads into the Tories and into the public popularity that we need to in order to form a Labour government and have a prosperous progressive government in this country, then I can't serve alongside him.

"I've always said that we're a movement of many, not just individuals, and there are lots of people who can serve on the front bench with distinction for the Labour party and I'm sure they will do that.

"I think it's now time for us to unite and get back to fighting the Tories and presenting a real, sincere version of the synthetic rhetoric-filled vision we heard from Theresa May yesterday."

'Heard it all before'

In her speech, Mrs May claimed the Conservatives would use the power of government to "restore fairness" in Britain and spread prosperity more widely.

She also said Labour was now seen as the "nasty party" and only the Tories would "stand up for the weak... up to the powerful".

While Mr Smith conceded that Labour members "have been nasty to each other a lot recently", he accused Mrs May of having served in a Cabinet "which has been nasty to the British public" with cuts to universal credits that will leave working people thousands of pounds out of pocket.

"Truthfully, we have heard it all before," he added.

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