Councillors choose sides as leader battle rages on

Owen Smith
Owen Smith

A handful of Wigan councillors have backed Owen Smith for Labour leader amid claims many more are keeping their support private.

Seven borough representatives have put their name to a 500-strong support list of counterparts from across the country.

The Evening Post understands many more of the 65 borough Labour councillors plan to back Mr Smith but are concerned about the levels of intimidation and bullying within the national party.

Coun Bill Clarke, one of the seven, said: “I don’t think (Mr Smith) is the best man for the job, he’s the best of the two available.

“With Jeremy Corbyn in charge we haven’t got a chance of winning the election, that’s the message I’ve been getting on the doorsteps while canvassing.”

Coun Anita Thorpe said: “Owen Smith seems to have similar policies but Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t impressed me at all. I hope people wake up and realise we’re not going to win an election with Jeremy. Owen will appeal to the middle classes.”

Allegations of bullying have rocked the party in recent weeks with shocking incidents including the windows at Angela Eagle’s constituency office being smashed. Ms Eagle, the MP for Wallasey, had initially announced she would run against Mr Corbyn in the leadership election.

Meanwhile, many more MPs are understood to have complained to party bosses about the level of abuse and intimidation waged against themselves and their staff.

Mr Smith, the MP for Pontypridd, has also received backing by Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue also nominated him on the leadership ballot.

The letter of support, signed by hundreds of Labour councillors, reads: “Owen has convincingly made the case that he knows how to get things done and has the tenacity and skill to advance the cause of working people.

“This is no time for Labour to keep fighting itself. The next general election has already begun.

“Owen Smith, with his experience, especially as Shadow Secretary of State fighting austerity, has a firm grasp of the issues and will be prepared to lead our party from day one.”

The seven councillors are Anita Thorpe (Leigh East), Bill Clarke (Ashton), Jeanette Prescott (Pemberton), John Hilton (Aspull, New Springs, Whelley), Yvonne Klieve and Richard Barber (Golborne and Lowton West) and Stephen Hellier (Tyldesley).

The leadership campaign will run until September.