Labour Dissidents Unite Around Challenger to Jeremy Corbyn as Leader

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Owen Smith during his campaign kickoff near Cardiff, Wales, on Sunday, at which he announced his candidacy to be leader of Britain’s Labour Party.

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Geoff Caddick/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

LONDON — Rebellious lawmakers in Britain’s opposition Labour Party agreed on Tuesday on a single candidate to challenge their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, intensifying a bitter struggle to oust the left-wing party boss after months of internal feuding.

Owen Smith, who used to speak for the party on welfare issues, emerged as the challenger to Mr. Corbyn after winning a contest for support among Labour deputies — prompting his rival, Angela Eagle, to withdraw from the race.

Mr. Corbyn has refused to stand aside despite losing a no-confidence motion among Labour lawmakers and suffering the resignation of the majority of his senior team in Parliament.

Although Labour is now embroiled in the biggest crisis in its recent history, Mr. Corbyn may well retain the leadership, which will be decided by party members and supporters in a vote in September.

Last year, they elected Mr. Corbyn with an overwhelming majority, and according to some opinion polls, support for the Labour leader increased among Labour activists, if not the public, after the no-confidence motion.

Some observers believe that if Mr. Corbyn were to win another mandate to lead the party, Labour could split, as it did in the 1980s, when a group of centrist lawmakers and senior figures formed the ultimately unsuccessful Social Democratic Party.

A majority of current Labour lawmakers never wanted Mr. Corbyn as their leader, see him as an electoral liability and blame him for the party’s lackluster campaign to keep Britain in the European Union ahead of last month’s referendum, in which Britons voted to leave.

Some fret that Labour would suffer big losses under Mr. Corbyn if the new prime minister and Conservative Party leader, Theresa May, were to seek an early general election to win a new mandate. But Mr. Corbyn insists that he has the support of party members, has brought more people into politics and will fight in the next election, which is scheduled for 2020.

Announcing her decision to withdraw from the leadership contest, Ms. Eagle, a former spokeswoman on business issues, said she would support Mr. Smith, adding in a Twitter post that he “will make a great leader for Labour” and a “great” prime minister.

“He has the values, vision and policies we need to take on the Tories,” she said, referring to the Conservative Party, and adding that Labour needs “new leadership if we are to make a difference for our country and build a fairer, more equal society.”

Ms. Eagle, who set off the Labour leadership contest, was the front-runner, while Mr. Smith had been a relatively low-profile figure within the party until recently. However, he outflanked Ms. Eagle with strong media performances and by pitching his campaign to the left of hers, as well as by highlighting his opposition to the Iraq war, for which she voted.

Iraq remains a touchstone issue among Labour members who will decide the leadership contest. Mr. Smith, a former journalist, entered Parliament only in 2010, and is not tainted by association with the governments of the former leader Tony Blair — who is unpopular among Labour activists.

Within the party, tensions are high and party meetings have been suspended after allegations that lawmakers had been threatened or intimidated. In one incident, a brick was thrown through the window of Ms. Eagle’s constituency office.

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