Past interview reveals support for Iraq war and NHS sell-off
OWEN SMITH was outed as a political chameleon yesterday after he made a left-wing pitch for the Labour leadership — despite previously backing the Iraq war and private involvement in the NHS.
The Welsh MP has positioned himself on the soft left of the party and claimed to offer a “radical and credible” alternative to Jeremy Corbyn.
In an interview, he credited Mr Corbyn with making Labour an unequivocally anti-austerity party but said he was “not a leader who can lead us into an election and win for Labour.”
He also told BBC Radio 4 that he would have voted against the Iraq war if he had been an MP at the time, saying it was “clearly the wrong decision to go to war” and declaring that he was “opposed to it at the time.”
But that contradicted previous remarks he had made about the illegal invasion in an interview that was shared widely on social media yesterday.
When he was standing for Parliament in 2006, he said he did not know whether he would have voted in favour of the invasion.
“I thought at the time the tradition of the Labour Party and the tradition of left-wing engagement to remove dictators was a noble, valuable tradition and one that in south Wales, from the Spanish civil war onwards, we have recognised and played a part in,” he told the Western Mail.
Questions have also been raised over his history as a lobbyist for US pharmaceuticals privateer Pfizer, where he earned £80,000 a year as “head of government affairs” between 2005 and 2008.
Shadow Commons leader Paul Flynn said he “wasn’t too pleased by the fact that we had a drug-pusher as a candidate” when Mr Smith unsuccessfully contested the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election.
Mr Smith also told the Western Mail he was “fine” with private involvement in the NHS as long as it didn’t threaten its public-service ethos, saying health companies could bring “good ideas” and “valuable services”
And on the private finance initiative, he said: “I’m not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances.”
Mr Smith was also called out over his claims that he had not been involved in “any plot or coup against Jeremy Corbyn.”
“I refused to have any part in discussions, which have been destructive, from a small group of people on the right who, just like those on the left, it seems to me, are now prepared to let Labour split,” he said yesterday.
But Labour MP John Mann wrote on Twitter: “I was approached six months ago to back Owen Smith to be Labour leader. I politely declined the offer.”