20, July 2016
UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will only need to challenge former shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith to preserve his position as the opposition leader, following Angela Eagle’s decision to drop out of the race. Registrations for the leadership vote closed on Wednesday, and Smith was the only challenger left in the race. He now faces an uphill battle as the latest YouGov poll has put him 20 points behind Corbyn.
Eagle ended her bid on Tuesday because of a failure to attract enough endorsements from Labour lawmakers to continue. This means Corbyn and Smith have until December 21 to appeal to voters and party members. The results will be announced in a Liverpool conference three days later.
As a Welsh MP and a former BBC producer, Smith is barely known outside Westminster and Wales, but his supporters hope he can dethrone Corbyn. Smith, who pitches himself as the candidate who can “save” the party, also faces criticism for his past as a lobbyist for the pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and his support for the Iraq war.
Corbyn’s opponents challenged his leadership for what they call inadequate efforts to keep the UK in the European Union (EU). Nearly 52 percent of British voters made it clear in a referendum on June 23 that they wanted their country out of the bloc. Corbyn was a fierce opponent of the decision and vouched for a stronger UK role in the EU instead. Smith himself is an admirer of Corbyn and has praised him for “helping Labour discover its radical roots.”
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband urged his supporters on Facebook to back Smith, saying, he “can build a Labour Party and a country of which we can be proud.” Eagle also announced that she will support Smith against Corbyn. Smith has offered her a senior job in his shadow cabinet if he wins.
By Tuesday, more than 55,000 people had paid £25 to vote in the race and the number was expected to rise before the Wednesday deadline. However, many people were left out as they could not pay the registration fee. A fund that had raised more than £14,000 in three days to help those voters was shut down after the party’s National Executive Committe said it was in violation of its rules.
“The figure of £25 is a discriminatory price that will clearly exclude a great many from being able to take part in this vote,” said Lauren Ashby, a party member who had set up the fundraiser.