Owen Smith just suffered a major blow to his Labour leadership campaign

Tracy Keeling

Owen Smith, the challenger to Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, has suffered a major blow to his campaign. He will not be endorsed by the new London Labour mayor. According to The Times (paywall) Sadiq Khan’s aides have made it clear that the mayor intends to “sit out” the contest.

This will be seen as a big loss to the leadership hopeful, as Khan is largely viewed as a ‘moderate’ – the stamp Smith himself is attempting to place on his bid – and, of course, is a clear vote winner.

Worse, Khan is not the only senior Labour figure to doubt Smith’s ability as a leadership candidate. As The Guardian has detailed, The Times has found a number of party stalwarts who have expressed “disillusionment” with Smith’s performances so far.

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One backer of the challenger lamented that he would put Smith’s chance of winning against Corbyn at “less than 1 per cent”. Another said:

I suppose we’ve got to take a deep breath, hold our nose and back him…But from what I’ve seen so far the idea that Owen can beat Jeremy seems fanciful. It’s a mess.

One commentator practically weeped:

We’ve not exactly got Rocky in the ring.

The Times‘ anonymous sources note Smith’s inadequate responses to questions about his former role as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer as one reason they are losing faith in him. Smith worked at the drug company from 2005 to 2008, and, amongst other things, has failed to properly address his previous defence of patents – which allow companies to charge extortionate prices for medicines – and using his position in parliament to advocate for the use of such patent drugs in the NHS.

They also bemoan his lack of “substance” in laying out his policy proposals as yet. A lack of credible policy ideas is often a complaint levelled at Corbyn by opponents, even from Smith himself:

Jeremy has been great at identifying some of the questions that we have got to ask, but he has not been good at identifying the solutions.

But now it seems that the ‘credible’ opposition candidate has few policy ideas of his own as yet, and that senior Labour figures are starting to take note.

Labour sources who want to see the back of Corbyn have previously been featured in the media expressing doubt over their chances for success. And the campaign to oust him has been dogged by Corbyn’s continued popularity amongst Labour members, and an inability to find an inspiring candidate to stand against him.

Angela Eagle, who was the initial MP pegged to take on Corbyn, withdrew her bid following a campaign that was ruined by underhand tactics and spin. And now, as investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald notes:

It is, of course, early days yet in the leadership campaign. But with Smith’s support within the party elite already waning, it looks like it’s going to be an uphill struggle for Owen “Rocky” Smith.

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