Owen Smith has signalled Labour leadership rival Jeremy Corbyn lacks a belief in “patriotism” that rings true with Labour supporters.
Interviewed on BBC’s Newsnight, the Pontypridd MP suggested the current Labour leader’s “metropolitan” outlook put him out of the sync with the party’s core vote, and that “nationhood, nationalism and patriotism aren’t really part of his make-up”.
Corbyn, MP for Islington in North London, has faced criticism for failing to appeal beyond a limited, left-leaning group of supporters and that would fail to translate to electoral success.
Even his right-hand man John McDonnell said Corbyn should have sung the national anthem when he stood in silence at the cenotaph last year.
Smith, a former BBC producer, has attempted to exploit his family links to the Welsh coal-mining industry to burnish his left-wing credentials.
On Newsnight, Smith drew dividing lines with Corbyn by renewing his argument that Britain should be spending 2% of GDP on defence and back the Trident nuclear weapon system.
“One of the weaknesses that we’ve had recently is that people worry that Labour isn’t serious about security, that it’s a lesser issue for Jeremy as it were.
“I’m not sure that’s right, but he’s certainly got a different perspective on some of those things, on patriotism if you like, and on security and on defence. I think I’ve got a more traditional Labour perspective on that…But that’s a big difference between us.”
He went on:
“I think Jeremy to be honest doesn’t really understand sometimes the way in which people have a very strong perhaps socially conservative, conservative with a small ‘c’, sense of place, sense of where they’re from.
“I’m not sure I’ve heard him talking much about Scotland as an identity, or Wales as an identity, or indeed about England, an identity.
“I suspect Jeremy has a rather more metropolitan sense of that and that’s not one I think central to the Labour tradition.”
When presenter James O’Brien asked whether he was calling Corbyn unpatriotic, Smith said:
“I’m saying that I think it’s not something that is core to his set of beliefs. I think he’s got a set of liberal perspectives and Left perspectives on things, and nationhood and nationalism and patriotism aren’t really part of his make-up.”