Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith engaged in a bitter and argumentative battle over the leadership of the Labour Party in the first head-to-head debate on Thursday, as the audience loudly booed, heckled and cheered.
From the start, Smith attacked Corbyn for Labour’s current standing in the polls and warned the party was heading for defeat at the next election.
While Corbyn hit back at Smith for resigning from the shadow cabinet and blamed him for causing the “disunity” in the party.
Watch the debate in full:
Smith told Corbyn: “We are 14% behind the Tories under Theresa May. Two million Labour voters think they would prefer Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn as the prime minister of this country. That has got to be a wake up call.”
“I want us to be looked at by the country as a credible, respected Opposition and a Labour government in waiting,” he said.
Turning to Corbyn he added: “I know you’re radical, I’m radical, but I want us to be radical in government. Not radical in protesting against the Tories.”
As the audience in Cardiff loudly booed and cheered, Smith said “disunited parties lose elections” and said the reason the party was splintering was because it was “losing”.
Corbyn told Smith “we are all there for winning”. But Smith suggested Corbyn did not really want to see Labour elected. “I wonder sometimes,” he said.
But Corbyn blamed Smith for the trouble in the party. “You complain about disunity in the party when you and others resigned from the shadow cabinet,” he said. “It would be a good thing if Labour MPs got behind their leader.”
And he said the “wave of resignations” from his shadow cabinet last month was what “put us behind in the polls”. He added: “Owen, you walked away.”
Smith also defended Labour MPs, the majority of which passed a vote of no confidence in Corbyn. “They aren’t ‘Red Tories’,” he said. “These are people who want to se the party back in power. They are not Blairites. They are just Labour MPs.”
And he promised voters to deliver the “most radical” Labour government since the one of 1945 that created the NHS.
Corbyn told the audience Labour lost the election in 2015 because Ed Miliband was advocating “austerity lite” and was “not offering a clear enough alternative to the British people”.
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