Owen Smith, Angela Eagle and Jeremy Corbyn – what’s the difference?

Labour leadership candidates have similar records on the issues


With Owen Smith’s hat in the ring, Jeremy Corbyn has two potential challengers for Labour Party leader.

How do the three compare on the issues?

Owen Smith

Owen Smith

Owen Smith says he would be a ‘radical and credible’ leader, and his voting record bears this out.

He has backed increasing welfare payments, including benefits for disabled people, and voted against welfare cuts (including the Bedroom Tax) and cuts to local government funds.

Smith voted with his party to abstain on the July 2015 welfare bill, but voted against the bill in its third reading.

Smith has consistently voted for gay rights (including same-sex marriage) and assisted dying for the terminally ill, and wants to see a wholly elected House of Lords.

Smith has voted against tax cuts for the wealthy and backed a higher rate of tax for top earners, while opposing higher taxes that affect lower-income earners, like VAT and alcohol.

He backed a bankers’ bonus tax and Labour’s proposed mansion tax.

Smith has also consistently voted against restrictions on trade unions.

On health and education, Smith has voted against privatisation measures, including academies, and consistently voted against having university tuition fees and against raising them to £9,000.

His votes on devolution to Wales and Scotland and to local councils are a mixed bag, and he has opposed stricter asylum and immigration rules.

On security, Smith says he opposed the Iraq war, though he wasn’t an MP when the vote was taken in 2003.

He has since voted for a no-fly zone in Libya during the Arab Spring effort to topple Gaddafi (2011), against taking action in Syria after Assad used chemical weapons (2013), for airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq (2014) and against airstrikes against ISIS in Syria (2015).

Smith said this morning he was for multilateral nuclear disarmament, but currently backs replacing Britain’s Trident submarines (a view popular with trade unions), and his votes reflect this.

He has voted for bulk retention of communication data by security services, and backed measures to prevent climate change.

Conclusion: Owen Smith’s voting record shows a commitment to a Left programme for social justice, opposing privatisation, a cautious but internationalist foreign policy, and greater equality. 


Angela Eagle


Angela Eagle has promised ‘real leadership’ to bring party and country together – and lead Labour into government.

On welfare and benefits, her votes are as strong as Owen Smith’s, including on government jobs programmes for young people who are unemployed. (Like Smith, she abstained on the welfare bill in July 2015 but voted against in its third reading.)

She voted against tax cuts for top earners and voted for a higher top rate of tax, plus voted for a tax on bankers’ bonuses, and Labour’s mansion tax, while opposing higher taxes that affect lower-income earners, like VAT and alcohol.

She has consistently voted against restrictions on trade unions.

Eagle has consistently voted for gay rights, (including same-sex marriage), and assisted dying for the terminally ill, and wants to see a wholly elected House of Lords.

Like Smith, she has voted against stricter asylum and immigration laws, and for the bulk data retention, but also supported Labour’s anti-terrorism laws and plans to introduce ID cards. (Smith was not in parliament at the time.)

Eagle has opposed privatisation measures in health and education, including academies, and voted against tripling university tuition fees. However, Eagle generally voted for tuition fees.

On security, Eagle has generally voted for replacing Trident nuclear submarines, and voted with her party in support of the Iraq war in 2003.

Eagle voted against taking action in Syria after Assad used chemical weapons (2013), for airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq (2014) and for airstrikes against ISIS in Syria (2015). (She was absent for the Libya vote in 2011.)

Taken with her support for Labour’s anti-terrorism measures, this suggests a security policy based on tackling Islamist terrorism, but cautious of intervening against dictators post-Iraq.

Unlike Smith, Eagle consistently voted for ministers being able to intervene in inquests. Their records on devolution to Wales, Scotland and local councils are similar, as are votes to prevent climate change.

Conclusion: Angela Eagle’s voting record is one of a solid social democrat working for greater equality, social justice, opposing privatisation, and a security policy based on keeping Brits safe.


Jeremy Corbyn 


As the incumbent, Jeremy Corbyn’s positions are already well-known, and his voting record is consistent over many years in parliament.

He consistently voted for raising welfare payments and benefits, including for disabled people, and opposed cuts to welfare spending.

Last July he was one of 48 Labour rebels who voted against the government’s welfare bill, on which the party abstained. This helped secure his election as Labour Party leader less than two months later.

Corbyn has opposed tax cuts for the wealthy and voted for higher taxes for top earners, along with opposing VAT rises. However, he voted for raising tax on alcohol in 2010.

Unlike his rivals for Labour leader, Corbyn voted against assisted dying for the terminally ill in 1997.

Like his rivals, he has voted against cuts to corporation tax, against trebling tuition fees and against privatisation measures in health and education, including academies.

Also like his rivals, he backs a wholly elected House of Lords, has opposed stricter asylum and immigration laws, has a mixed record on devolution, and has voted against curbs to trade unions.

The biggest single policy difference is on security and foreign policy. Corbyn has voted against every use of military force up for a vote in parliament, including in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and on airstrikes against ISIS. He has also voted against Labour’s anti-terrorism laws and bulk retention of data.

He leads a minority in his party on not replacing Trident nuclear submarines – a position the Labour Party NEC voted against debating at September’s party conference, before effectively backing replacement as Labour’s long-standing position.

Conclusion: Jeremy Corbyn’s voting record shows consistency over many years on Labour’s hard-Left, with a commitment to greater equality, social justice, opposing privatisation, and a non-interventionist foreign policy, with curbs to anti-terror laws and no nuclear deterrent. 

Obviously, Labour voters will consider much besides voting records when choosing a new party leader.

But it’s worth noting that on the issues, there is little space between the three candidates on domestic policy. All three are certainly to the Left of Ed Miliband.

In other words, there are no ‘Blairites’ currently in the race.

On foreign affairs, Corbyn is an outlier among MPs, with stances popular with sections of the party. But again, there are no ‘hawks’ or ‘neo-cons’ in sight – at least based on the evidence.

UPDATE: This piece has been amended to say both Smith and Eagle voted against the Welfare Bill in its third reading. 

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: Jeremy Corbyn lacks support from union members, says YouGov poll

23 Responses to “Owen Smith, Angela Eagle and Jeremy Corbyn – what’s the difference?”

  1. .

    I know you’re trying desperately hard, but we’re still not going to forget those ‘minor’ policy disagreements like;

    – voting for the Iraq war
    – voting against any investigation or inquiry into the Iraq war
    – voting consistently for wars and bombing throughout the Middle East
    – not voting against the disgraceful Tory welfare bill, allowing it to pass
    – voting for tuition fees
    – voting for mass surveillance of the public
    – voting against parliamentary transparency
    – voting against tighter regulation of fracking
    – voting for spending over £200billion on nuclear weapons
    – voting against an open register of lobbyists
    – steadfastly supporting Blair and saying ‘Chilcot was his punishment’ (not exactly a policy but it might as well be with the amount we’ve seen)

    ;that Eagle and many other ‘Labour’ MPs have consistently been on the wrong side of, and Corbyn has consistently been on the right side of. Not to mention the fact that she speaks and votes ‘far less frequently’ than the average MP yet has taken nearly £1m in expenses in the last five years, and doesn’t even have the support of her own constituency, much less the wider party membership.

  2. Tony

    There are considerable differences between Corbyn and the two right-wing candidates.

    “On security, Smith says he opposed the Iraq war, though he wasn’t an MP when the vote was taken in 2003.”

    On 10 May 2006, he actually expressed support for the war:

    The Iraq War:
    “We are making significant inroads in improving what is happening in Iraq. 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 also supported PFI and private sector involvement in the NHS:

    The involvement of the private sector in the NHS:
    “Where they can bring good ideas, where they can bring valuable services that the NHS is not able to deliver, and where they can work alongside but subservient to the NHS and without diminishing in any respect the public service ethos of the NHS, then I think that’s fine. I think if their involvement means in any way, shape or form the break up of the NHS, then I’m not a fan of it, but I don’t think it does.”

    On PFI (Private Finance Initiative) schemes, etc:
    “We’ve had PFI in Wales, we’ve had a hospital built down in Baglan through PFI. If PFI works, then let’s do it. What people want to see are more hospitals, better services. “City academies in certain parts of inner city Britain, where schools were failing, where children were not being well served, have made great inroads.

    You can read the full interview here:


    I urge everybody to vote for Corbyn rather than right-wingers Smith or Eagle.

  3. Imp

    My understanding was that Owen Smith is on the record as supporting greater involvement of the private sector with the NHS.

    Still, it’s good to finally get an answer about what the difference between left and hard left is considered to be – lack of support for trident and military interventions apparently.

  4. Alex Wilson

    What is this, some sort of joke? There are large differences between the candidate. Corbyn is the only one to vote against the Tories’ welfare bill, and Eagle voted for the Iraq war, and repeatedly to have no investigation into it.

  5. John Woods

    Where are the Giants of the Labour movement? I remember 1976 with nostalgia as the last time it was difficult to choose (not that the members had a choice) between all the candidates for the leadership. My choice was Denis Healey and I still believe he would have been more successful than Callaghan. Now it is minor characters who have never got their heads above the parapet. I shall vote for Angela because it is time we had a female leader.

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