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