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Former Labour leadership contender and Welsh MP Owen Smith leaves Britain for Australia

31 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Owen Smith. Picture by the House of Commons

Martin Shipton

A former Welsh MP who left politics after unsuccessfully challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership is moving to Australia to become a senior executive with a pharmaceutical company.

Owen Smith posted to social media a message that said: “I’m happy to share that I’m starting a new position as Vice President and General Manager, Bristol Myers Squibb, Australia & New Zealand. We leave for Melbourne on January 1st!”

Smith was the MP for Pontypridd from 2010 until 2019. In 2012 he succeeded Peter Hain as the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales and seemed destined for a glittering political career.

He held the post for more than three years and when Jeremy Corbyn took over as party leader in 2015 he was made Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Remain campaign

A strong supporter of the UK staying in the EU, Smith shared the view of many Labour MPs that Mr Corbyn’s perceived lack of enthusiasm for the Remain campaign had contributed to the referendum victory for Brexit.

A widespread rebellion within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was triggered when Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn quit the Shadow Cabinet, saying he had no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership.

Owen Smith then became one of more than two dozen members of the Shadow Cabinet to resign over the course of two days. A no-confidence vote was supported by 172 MPs in the PLP, against 40 supporting Corbyn.

A new leadership contest was called and both Smith and Angela Eagle were nominated as centrist candidates. Corbyn was allowed to stand again as the incumbent leader, despite speculation that he may have failed to get the required number of nominations to appear on the ballot paper.

Ms Eagle decided to withdraw when Smith gained more nominations than she did. She then backed Smith.

Despite securing nominations from many MPs and a respectable number of Constituency Labour Parties, Smith went down to a heavy defeat, with Corbyn securing a higher percentage of votes than he had in the previous year’s leadership election. I

n the contest, Corbyn got 313,209 votes (61.8%) against 193,229 votes (38.2%) for Smith. The result showed that while the majority of Labour MPs did not support Corbyn, his popularity among grassroots party members remained very high.

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Following the 2017 general election, when Labour did better than expected, depriving Tory Prime Minister Theresa May of her Parliamentary majority, Corbyn appointed Smith as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

However, nine months later Smith was sacked by Corbyn after announcing his support for the UK to remain in the single market and his support for a second EU referendum in what was seen as a breach of Shadow Cabinet collective responsibility. Smith subsequently announced that he would be standing down as an MP at the next general election in 2019..

Shortly after leaving Westminster, Smith joined Bristol Myers Squibb as its UK government relations director.

It wasn’t the first time he had worked as a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company. After 10 years working as a journalist and producer for the BBC in Wales and London, he joined the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer as its chief lobbyist in the UK.

It was while working for Pfizer that he stood as Labour’s candidate in the 2006 Westminster by-election in Blaenau Gwent. A rock solid Labour seat, it had previously been represented by NHS founder Aneurin Bevan and Labour leader Michael Foot.

At the 2005 general election, Blaenau Gwent was won by local Assembly Member Peter Law, who stood as an Independent. Law had been denied the chance to stand for Labour because the party had decided to impose an all-women shortlist on the constituency.

Law won the seat by a landslide, but died from a brain tumour the following year. Law’s agent Dai Davies won the resulting by-election, defeating Smith by a majority of 2,488.

‘Managed out’

Reflecting on Smith’s failure to defeat Corbyn in 2016 and his departure from politics, a Labour source said: “If he’d stuck it out I guess it’s possible he’d have been in Keir’s Shadow Cabinet, but I think he would have been managed out or demoted like Lisa Nandy. He could have maybe hoped for Welsh Secretary at best, which he would see as beneath him.

“He never recovered and was never forgiven for his woeful leadership campaign, where he elbowed Angela Eagle out of the way and then imploded., making Corbyn look competent.. It was the first time he’d had any real scrutiny and he fell apart.

“People were embarrassed by all his gaffes during the leadership campaign.”

We invited Owen Smith to comment, but he did not respond to our message.

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John Davies
John Davies
6 months ago

Good riddance. What was a corporate lobbyist doing in the Labour Party in the first place?

Lee Thacker
Lee Thacker
6 months ago
Reply to  John Davies

Pontypridd MP Kim Howells, apparently a family friend, stood down at very short notice just notice just before the 2010 General Election. I don’t think there was time for the Pontypridd Constituency Labour to run the normal selection process. I know local many members were unhappy about. (Kim Howells son said on a local web forum that his father genuinely only made up his made to stand down a few months before the election.)

6 months ago

Most politicians, left right or centre, seem to be very comfortable in a globalist corporate environment these days. Fits neatly into the “Careerist” model of grey suited shallow tvrds.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i bawb.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

What a surprise, he says tongue firmly in cheek. Is this the same Owen Smith who now flees HMS Little Britain in favour of a cushy job in Australia, no doubt with a pharmaceutical company he allegedly lobbied for as an MP. Oh, and this is a man, or mouse, by the way who as Shadow Welsh Secretary is said to have blocked the idea of Wales having further devolution if & when Labour came to power, meaning the continuation of our democratic deficit where he supported the idea of more power to Scotland & Northern Ireland , just not… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
6 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Well said !

Now lets work towards Plaid Cymru becoming the next government at the next Senedd election.

It is clear that Wales will never benefit from the Conservatives nor Labour so lets rid of them from our country.

A Federalist UK won’t work while unity England will always outvote the combined our Celtic nations on population size.
Conferatism will work, however we will have to be an independent state to do this – just as Belgium or Norway is today.

Richard E
Richard E
6 months ago

Back openly where he has always been ?

“ A fu Ddoe a fydd o hyd “

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
6 months ago

Jeremy Corbyn should have purged the Labour Party of the unwanted Blairites. By not doing this the Labour Party today is hardly any different to the Conservative party under the present leadership.

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