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

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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.

  6. Eric

    Thanks for an objective assessment of the three candidates. Something that was much needed.

  7. PDR

    If Corbyn wins it will just be argument and division over and over – this issues and faces will change – but the turmoil will remain.
    I will vote for Oliver Smith – I believe he can drag the party back from the brink, as Neil Kinnock did in the 1980’s

  8. ted francis

    I don’t think gender is a reliable single criterion for voting, John. Back in the late 70’s I was so fed up with the status quo that I thought I’d vote for a particular candidate just because it was a woman….boy did I get that wrong!!
    There’s just under 4 years left before the next opportunity for change happens. At the risk of stating the obvious, we need a leader who is capable of marshaling his/her forces and resources to use every second of that 4 years to create a manifesto of such broad and irresistible appeal that it will not only undermine the opposition but make the decision at the ballot box incontrovertible (or to use that inane current expression ‘a no-brainer’). It goes without saying that the team he/she picks to project and enact that manifesto must have the talent, energy and integrity that is self-evident to the electorate. At the moment, we ain’t got a cat in hell’s chance!
    It may sound jesuitical to say but, given the enormous strength and street-cunning of the opposition, now is not the time for ideological purity.

  9. ted francis

    I’ve been thinking: not only ‘jesuitical’ but to many, downright bloody blasphemous!

  10. Bob

    Oh dear, abstaining on the second reading of a bill is not the equivalent of voting against a bill at the third reading. If you cannot grasp that elementary point should should not be writing an artical like this.

  11. Bob

    Just a note: they *all* voted against the Tory welfare bill at the important stage, the third reading. That is where the bill passes or falls, to keep saying only Corbyn voted against is wrong and implies blind and wilful prejudice.

  12. Bob

    , to keep saying only Corbyn voted against is wrong and implies blind and wilful prejudice.

  13. Jim Goode

    Ths article seems to be a summary of the information on http://www.theyworkforyou.com .

    The problem with that it, in Smith’s case, the only data you have is votes he made while in opposition to the coalition and current government.

    In our binary political system, it is rare for Opposition MPs to vote with the government of the time, and given how right wing those governments have been, it would be a really shock were any Labour MP to vote with them.

  14. Nancy

    Your summation of Owen Smith is seriously lacking. Forgot to mention he went to school for History and French which somehow qualified him to work as a radio producer for the BBC for ten years, followed by a career as a lobbyist for Pfizer, who had previously been funding the right-wing pressure group Progress, then moved on to fund his first election in Wales. Interestingly Pfizer has been putting pressure on UK government to pay their exorbitant costs for new cancer medication which has been shown to be quite effective in saving lives but at a cost of strangling the NHS, usually these drugs are offered at a discount, Pfizer instead withheld the drug for over three years until the government agreed to pay very recently. Also you should have considered the points made by Tony above as they show his rhetoric is not consistent. To say now he is strongly against the Iraq war, but at the time to say he supported it goes to show his own inconsistencies and how he just acts in the flavour of the popular rhetoric of the month.

    He also hasn’t shown a very ‘left’ approach to working women: According to the book The Greasy Poll: Diary of a controversial election by Mike Parker, prior to their debate, he told Leanne Wood while on camera that she was only on Question Time to fill the needed female quota.

    Angela is also far from ‘Left’ wing and has shown with her voting record that her actions and words do not meet. Not sure how you missed that in your analysis, it’s pretty obvious.

    You should definitely not be so blaze about brushing over their thoughts on privatisation either given it is privatisation more than anything that separates the Neoliberals from the true Left. Cameron has made it very clear by his repeated attacks on the Labour party and Corbyn (simply because he is the current leader, not because he had anything to do wiht it) that they cannot criticise Tories for privatisation as they were the ones who started it. Opening the door to privatisation, especially in health and education leaves it vulnerable to complete disintegration when the Tories are in power. It didn’t take long to take the NHS from Blair’s PFI to it’s current state where by the World Health Organisation’s definition, the UK doesn’t actually qualify as an NHS as it became too privatised under the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/terrifyingly-according-to-the-world-health-organisation-definition-the-uk-no-longer-has-a-nhs-a6923126.html

  15. Jay ginn

    The differences on foreign policy are significant for the welfare of people in many countries and also have large financial implications. hence Corbyns stand against Trident replacement and disastrous wars , that have killed and injured so many while devastating middle eastern infrastructure and economic position, is not a minor issue. Let’s not forget , too, that besides the many uk servicemen and women killed , even more suffered life changing injuries and will require much surgery and rehab care for the rest of their lives.
    I take issue with the writers bland assumption that Assad used chemical weapons. He may or may not have done this, we don’t have the necessary evidence and he should not swallow uncritically the politicians assertions, remembering similar assertions about WMD in Iraq.

  16. Linda Peterson

    May seem a daft question, but If their policies are all so similar, why on earth are they trying so desperately to remove the democratically elected leader only 9 months after he was elected? Why aren’t they supporting him to get those policies (on which they all purportedly agree) pushed through and to wholeheartedly defeat this Tory government whenever the next election is called. Or is it just the playground bullying technique of ostracising someone because they are “not popular”.

  17. Robbie Leslie

    On John Wood’s comment.
    You are so right John. Unfortunately the days of heavyweight politicians lie in the past. In 1976 Labour ‘big beasts’ were present across all wings of the party. Just to name a few – Denis Healy, David Owen, Roy Hattersly, Barbara Castle, Shirley Williams, Michael Foot, Roy Jenkins, Peter Short, Tony Benn. None of them had a background in the media, political lobbying or ‘special advising’. They all had heft and hinterland plus an intellectually-reasoned argument for their favoured form of socialism/social democracy.
    Can anyone name nine members of the current PLP with similar clout?
    The era of the professional politician has sold us all very short…

  18. Paul

    I voted for Jeremy Corbyn but will change to Owen Smith, the EU referendum was a disaster for labour, only 30% of the constituencies where have an MP voted remain, we are losing ground to red UKIP in many areas. Nothing positive was said about the EU we didn’t tackle immigration and sovereignty. Jeremy Corbyn should take responsibility for the poor campaign. I am also concerned that we are starting almost to have a personality cult with Momentum suggesting we vote for members to the NEC just because they support Jeremy, this is not right.

  19. Nick

    corbyn is the real deal and if he can get the likes of myself on board who is retired from the bank of England so much the better

    i like him and he should do well’ but the majority of the public today are very different and are much more insular and selfish today ‘traits i thank god have never had

    There is an old saying about if your face fits ? and this is a classic example of that’ corbyns face in reality does not fit but then neither do the other candidates

    jo cox’s would have been ideal with fresh ideas and popular with the whole house so i would suggest to Jeremy that he take time out to find a jo cox replacement and stand down as that is really the only way forward for labour

    at the end of the day he has to convert conservatives to vote for him and to halt the rise of UKIP’ this is a mammoth task and in reality could only be achieved by a person who has the personality as life is like this sometimes as i know myself i get treated like royalty in countries like Egypt and Tunisia and i’ll never know as to why ?

    I do so hope Jeremy can look as this from my angle as it is the only Honorable way forward

  20. Martyn Wood-Bevan

    Apparently in his previous employment he was known as “Oily” Smith because he always told people what they wanted to hear. He is NOT a conviction politician and is trying hard to paint himself as almost an acceptable left-winger. He seriously lacks authenticity, like Angela Eagle who get her constituency job by very dubious means, just as she is trying to become leader now. I would not trust either of them.

  21. U. Monad

    There are those who ‘live the lifestyle’ & are there to protect the status quo. Maybe it is time for an honest. decent person who wants to listen to the people who have voted & make a radical change in UK politics by doing what is right for the majority of the people and not just the capitalists. Buckminister Fuller stated in the 20th century that we had the knowledge & technology to ‘pave the streets with gold’.
    A leader that will do what is best for the majority of the people will be a leader that will be remembered forever as a representative of the people, working for the people & of the people. Look what the Scandinavians are doing for their people (re basic income) & their standard of life. Maybe it is time for a completely different approach to ‘politics’ & ‘life in the UK’ ? Free Education .Free NHS & Council Housing , is that too much to ask of a 21st century, civilized, democratic country ?

  22. Marina

    I have just received my ballot paper and will be voting for Jeremy. I cannot as a Christian and a human being vote for a candidate who voted to renew Trident (a policy which we didn’t get to vote on at the Conference last September) and is prepared to sanction the deaths of hundreds of thousands innocent women and children in a nuclear attack.

  23. David

    If Corby ‘dies’, socialism dies with him. He is a unique force at Westminster where, pre-Corbyn, neoliberal assumptions underlay all political debate. Now equality and peace are storming the barricades! At Westminster there is no one else but Corbyn who has the conviction and drive to make people power a real force in our society. Under Corbyn, the term ‘democracy’ would, at last, acquire real meaning after centuries of misuse by the ruling elites of this world.There is no one else at Westminster who can change the course of our history.

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