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Jeremy Corbyn vs Owen Smith: Who won BBC Question Time debate?

Last night’s BBC Question Time in Oldham came down to heated exchanges over Brexit, leadership and party unity between Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership challenger Owen Smith.

It was to be the only Labour leadership hustings in the North West after similar events in Cardiff, Gateshead, Birmingham and Glasgow.

Two particular issues were at the forefront of the debate: electibility and Brexit.

Owen laid the charge with Mr Corbyn that he was “happy to lead Labour in Opposition”, but that he would never unity the party enough to make a credible challenge to the Conservatives.

Mr Corbyn, who had the audience more on his side, rebuffed the challenge and was more concilliatory, saying: “You’re obviously a talented man, Owen, why can’t we work together?”

The opening question cut right to the heart of the issue: “Jeremy has no support from Members of Parliament and Owen has no support from Party members: should they both not stand aside to give Labour a chance?

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In his defence, Corbyn emphasised the overwhelming support he has received from party members: “Over the past year we have recruited 300,000 members to the labour party, surely that’s something worth noticing.

“80% of constituency parties, local parties that nominated, nominated me for the leadership”.

Smith retorted: “It’s not just the 300,000 new members we’ve seen in the last year, we’ve seen Labour going backwards.

“We’re back at 26/27% in the polls.

“Right now, the chances are that we would be out of power for a generation.

“If there was an election tomorrow, Labour would lose 40,50,60 seats, back to where we were in 1980’s.”

After Owen’s confident rebuff, host David Dimbleby asked: “How will you lead better?”

Smith began: “The first thing you’ve got to do is you have to be a credible opposition.

“In 89 Polls under Jeremy’s leadership, we were behind in 85 for them. We were at level-pegging in four. We are at a lower ebb in the polls than we have been since 1982 when I was 12 years old.”

An audience member stated: “Owen’s campaign is more balanced. It’s one thing to have principles and beliefs, but you have to sell it to the British people in our electoral system and Scotland showed that you [Jeremy] didn’t do that.”

Some audience members wondered why Jeremy has not tried hard enough to appeal to Labour’s core voters.

Jeremy said: “The core vote is a people who has consistently voted Labour for very many years.

“It’s also a very large number of people who are intrinsically inclined towards towards Labour, but haven’t bothered to vote in the past: only 47% of young people voted in the last general election.

“I tell you this now, there is a re-energisation of politics over the past year, many of those that have joined the party, many of those that are active in local groups are very well connected with colleges, with universities, with young people at work.

“I tell you this, after this leadership is over there is going to be that energisation in politics which will challenge the Tories.”

The second key issue was Brexit, and Smith’s much derided call for the second referendum.

Smith said: “I think we should stay in the European Union, I’ve always believed that.

“Jeremy has campaigned to leave the European Union for 35 years.

“I think we shouldn’t trigger Article 50 and leave immediately, Jeremy says we should trigger Article-50 and leave immediately.

I believe we should be members of the single market – even if we’re leaving the European Union – Jeremy disagrees with me on that.”

To which Jeremy responded: “That’s not true.”

“I think we have to negotiate with the European Union on the terms of exit, we have to recognise – as regrettable as they are – the results of the referendum.

“We have to ensure we have access to European markets and manufactured goods; we have to ensure protection of workers rights, consumer rights, maternity and paternity leave, and many other environment protection issues that we gain through membership of the EU.

“And, we have to have that positive relationship with Europe, which means the ability to sell our goods.

David Dimbleby pressed: “Do you want us to remain in the single market, if that is possible, or is it not possible in your view?”

Corbyn said: “A single-market, if it’s possible, and I think it probably is.

“That means that we have to be prepared to obviously develop those trade relations with other countires as well. But, crucially, 70% of our exports go to Europe already – it makes an awful lot of sense to get on with negotiating now.

“I hope for continued membership of the European Investment Bank; I think that’s important. But also, in other trade-treaties we make, such as with the United States, I am very sceptical of the Trans-Atlantic Trading Investment Partnership and the agenda that goes with that.

“And, I would want us to develop trade relations that empower democratic government, don’t undermine it and give power to global-corporations”.

“How can we go through two Prime Minister’s Questions and not mention Brexit?” Smith asked.

“It is the biggest issue right now. It indicates our leader is not holding Theresa May to account.”

“Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit, I’ve got to say that we need to know what Brexit means.”

Labour will choose whether to stick with Jeremy Corbyn or elect Owen Smith to lead the party at the Leadership Conference on Thursday 24 September.

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