Owen Smith, the challenger for the Labour leadership, has been forced to defend his employment history and left-wing credentials in the face of attacks from Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters.
Mr Smith, a former journalist and lobbyist for pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, said it was a “gross exaggeration” to suggest he had advocated NHS privatisation.
Mr Corbyn will launch his campaign to retain the Labour leadership this morning, boosted by news that over 180,000 people have signed up as party supporters, paying £25 to take part in the leadership election.
The Labour leader’s spokesman said Mr Corbyn was “not complacent in any way” but added it was “reasonable to assume that the majority of them are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn”.
The spokesman said: “[Mr Corbyn] was elected with a landslide a year ago and by a lot of measures his support has increased among Labour Party members and activists and supporters. I think there’s every reason to think that he will be re-elected.”
Mr Smith appealed to the left, saying he is “just as radical” as Mr Corbyn, but the leader’s spokesman questioned the challenger’s left-wing credentials, saying: “The question of exactly where Owen Smith stands is open for debate,” before suggesting Mr Smith came from the “Blairite” wing of Labour.
The South Wales Echo had reproduced an interview with Mr Smith from 2006 in which he said the private sector could “bring good ideas” into the NHS.
Asked to respond to his rival’s policies on the NHS, Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said: “Owen Smith’s record is already becoming well-known, and his views in the past and now will obviously be part of the campaign.”