Jeremy Corbyn has issued a plea to Labour MPs to unite behind him once the leadership election is over.
Launching his campaign to see off a challenge from former shadow cabinet minister Owen Smith, the Labour leader said that after the election result is declared on September 24, it will be “the job, the duty, the responsibility” of every Labour MP to “get behind the party” and take on the Conservative Government.
Mr Corbyn is favourite to win the postal ballot of Labour’s members – whose ranks he said had swelled to more than 500,000 – as well as the 183,000 people who signed up this week as registered supporters and the affiliated supporters in the unions.
But Mr Smith has the nominations of 162 of the party’s MPs – some 70% of its representation in the Commons – along with half of Labour’s MEPs.
Mr Corbyn rejected critics’ warnings that his leadership makes Labour unelectable, insisting he is capable of taking the party to power and becoming prime minister.
Answering questions following a speech in London, Mr Corbyn said: “I say to Labour MPs quite simply this – I’ve been in Parliament a very long time. I’ve seen lots of leaders. I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go.
“There is a huge amount of talent on the Labour benches. We are part of but not the entirety of the Labour Party and the Labour movement.
Labour leadership challenge “And I hope that those that may not agree with me politically, may not even like me personally – I find that hard to believe, but there are some people apparently who don’t like me – I hold out the hand of friendship to them all, because come September when this election is done and dusted, there will still be a Tory Government in office, there will still be grotesque levels of inequality in our society, there will still be whole parts of this country that are left-behind Britain.
“It’s the job, it’s the duty, it’s the responsibility of every Labour MP to get behind the party at that point and put it there against the Tories about the different, fairer kind of Britain that we can build together.
“I appeal to them to work together to put that case forward, because we owe it to the people that founded this party, that support this party, the half-million who give their money and their time to help this party survive and strengthen and grow.
“I hope they will recognise that and come on board.”
Mr Corbyn took a dig at his rival’s former job for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, saying: “I hope Owen will fully agree with me that our NHS should be free at the point of use, should be run by publicly employed workers working for the NHS not for private contractors, and medical research shouldn’t be farmed out to big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and others but should be funded through the Medical Research Council.”
But he said that Mr Smith would be “very welcome” after the leadership election to rejoin the shadow cabinet, which he quit along with many other frontbenchers in the wake of the EU referendum in June.
“Owen Smith was in the shadow cabinet until two weeks ago and he came to see me to say he was very happy in the shadow cabinet and wanted to stay there and then left the meeting and resigned which was a slightly odd thing to do,” said the Labour leader.
“But of course he is very welcome to come back and I hope he would because that has got to be the right way of doing things.”
Mr Corbyn indicated that he would not hold grudges against critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party who have sought to oust him, saying: “I have an ability to very conveniently forget some of the unpleasant things that are said, because it’s not worth it.”
Asked if he believed he could take Labour into power, Mr Corbyn said: “This party is going places. This party is strong. This party is capable of winning a general election and if I am leader of the party I will be that prime minister.”