Leadership candidates debate Brexit, Trident, abuse and winning elections
Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith crossed swords on BBC News’s Victoria Derbyshire programme as part of the Labour Party leadership race.
The debate ranged from policy to personality and the state of the Labour Party, in a lively discussion with a mixed audience of one third Corbyn supporters, one third Smith supporters, and a third undecided voters.
After some questions about their interests outside politics, the candidates argued about sexism and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, the division between members and MPs, and the party’s ability to challenge the Conservatives in opposition and win a general election.
One Smith supporter complained about the tone of discussion at a recent Young Labour event from all sides, saying she would feel more comfortable as a Labour member at Tory conference than a Smith supporter at Labour conference.
Corbyn was also challenged on his response to sexism against female MPs and party members, with some taking issue with his likening this to abuse he has received and advice that people ignore it.
Corbyn denied he had said this and denounced all abuse, saying it had no place in the Labour Party. Smith said the leadership of the party should be stamping down more on abuse, including anti-Semitism, calling it shameful this was a problem for the Labour Party.
On policy, there were few disagreements. The two candidates repeated their positions on Trident renewal, with Smith supporting replacement and multilateral disarmament, calling a unilateral approach ‘naive’, and Corbyn against replacement and denying nuclear weapons increased UK security.
On Brexit, Smith repeated his call for a second referendum or a general election on the terms of leaving the European Union, while Corbyn said defending workers’ rights and environmental protections were ‘red lines’.
When asked about negotiations over Syria, including with the Assad government and potentially ISIS, both candidates gave opaque responses.
Corbyn said Assad was already part of international talks and others would be involved in ‘proximity talks’, but ISIS would not be ’round the table’.
Smith said he was part of Labour’s peace talks on Northern Island and political solutions are needed, adding that ISIS were not interested in talks, but suggested this could be on the cards in the future.
The two thirds of the audience backing one candidate or another were solid in their positions, with the Corbyn side the most vocal. At the end of the discussion, when ‘undecided’ voters were asked to move to one side or another, most went over to the Corbyn side to loud cheers from his supporters.
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