On 13th July 2016, Owen Smith, the former Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announced his intention to stand as a candidate for leadership of the Labour Party, against both Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Eagle. He planned to officially launch his campaign in his constituency of Pontypridd on 15th July, but respectfully decided to delay it, following the horrifying attack in Nice, in which 84 people were killed. However, despite his intention to challenge Corbyn’s leadership, Smith may have inadvertently split the anti-Corbyn vote and give the incumbent leader an unexpected advantage over both himself and Angela Eagle.

The irony of unity

On the Andrew Marr Show, broadcast on 17th July, both Smith and Eagle claimed to be the ‘unity’ candidate, a somewhat ironic term to use as they both claim support of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). However, although Smith has indicated that he would withdraw from the contest if Angela Eagle won the most support from the PLP, she refused to give the same assurance, and it has been reported that she would be unwilling in any circumstances to withdraw her candidacy to allow Smith to challenge Corbyn alone. Nevertheless, when interviewed by Marr, both candidates struggled with their answers; in response to questions regarding her vote for launching strikes against Gaddafi, Eagle stated that it had seemed a good idea at the time, whilst Smith indicated that he would consider a second EU referendum 18 months into the future, and that Britain was not on a clear path out of Europe at the moment.

Shifting focus

Both candidates plan to present their stalls at a hustings in front of fellow MP’s on Monday. However, Smith’s delayed nomination may still result in a shift of focus, including that of the media, from the challenge to Corbyn’s leadership to the challenge to become the ‘unity’ candidate. Corbyn meanwhile, can only benefit from this, as in their attempts to promote their respective candidates, supporters of both Owen Smith and Angela Eagle will inevitably jump at opportunities to undermine the other; indeed, supporters of Smith have already claimed that Eagle’s voting record, especially in relation to Iraq, will undermine her bid for leadership.