U.K. Labour Party Rivals Debate Unity in Bid to Beat Corbyn

Updated on
  • Smith says it’s better that one candidate takes on Corbyn
  • Eagle, Smith will set out leadership visions to MPs on Monday

The two lawmakers seeking to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Britain’s main opposition party say it’s better if just one of them competes against him.

Labour Party members Angela Eagle and Owen Smith are to lay out their visions on Monday, when they are due to appear before the Parliamentary Labour Party. While Corbyn has been urged to resign after losing a vote of no confidence, he has insisted he retains the support of the party’s rank-and-file, extending the chaos that has engulfed the party since Britain’s vote last month to leave the European Union.

Owen Smith on The Andrew Marr Show on July 17.

Photographer: Jeff Overs/BBC

While more than 60 lawmakers have quit Corbyn’s front-bench team, he gets an automatic place on the ballot for the post. Commentators suggest that one challenger may be more likely to defeat him, meaning either Smith or Eagle -- Corbyn’s former business spokeswoman who triggered the contest -- should back down or be removed from the ballot by the party.

Speaking to the BBC Sunday, Smith said that “one of us standing would be better” and that “whoever the person is who commands the largest degree of support” among parliamentary members “is the unity candidate, and that’s the person who should go forward and take Jeremy on.”

‘That’s Me’

Responding to whether it would be preferable to have only one candidate, Eagle said, “I think we need to have the person that’s most likely to beat Jeremy Corbyn, and I think that’s me.”

Labour Party members who joined before Jan. 12 qualify to vote in the leadership contest. Registering to cast a ballot will cost 25 pounds ($33), up from the 3-pound levy charged when Corbyn was elected last year.

Speaking in a separate interview with the BBC, Corbyn said he hopes party officials change those rules. “It seems to me that a 25-pound bar is quite high and not really reasonable,” he said, and the fact that people who joined the party in the last six months are ineligible to vote is “simply not very fair.”

Nominations will close Aug. 15 and ballots will be mailed to members Aug. 22. Voting ends a month later, with results announced Sept. 24.

Smith formally started his campaign later on Sunday in his Welsh constituency. He said that the party wouldn’t split under his leadership, something Corbyn hasn’t been able to guarantee.

“Our crisis in the Labour Party is in truth reflective of a deeper crisis in our society,” Smith said. “We are a country right now that is not at ease with itself, that is divided, that has felt for a long time that we’re not progressing in the way in which we once did.”