Owen Smith to pledge equal representation of women in Labour

Labour must act to ensure that half the shadow cabinet and half the party’s MPs are women, Owen Smith is to say.

Jeremy Corbyn’s challenger, who is backed by 70% of Labour MPs, will set out three commitments to gender balance in the party at a leadership campaign event on Saturday.

If elected as leader, the former shadow work and pensions secretary would commit to using all women shortlists in targeted seats until half of MPs are women, appointing a shadow cabinet with 50-50 gender balance and promising to make sure at least half of the great offices of state or their shadows – prime minister, chancellor, and home and foreign secretaries – are held by women under his leadership.

Smith has established himself as a soft-left alternative to Corbyn’s leadership. But, in an embarrassing U-turn, he was recently forced to correct his CV online. The Pontypridd MP had claimed to be “a director and member of the UK and Ireland board of Amgen”, a major pharmaceutical company based in the US. He has amended his website so it reads: “a director and member of the UK and Ireland team of Amgen”.

Smith worked at Amgen before he was elected in 2010. Questions about his CV began after the Guardian approached Amgen about its tax status.

In response to queries about the company’s tax affairs, Amgen said: “Owen Smith’s position at Amgen did not give him any involvement or influence on the topics raised here – he was an employee in the UK for 18 months and was not an officer of the company or board member.”

A spokesman for Smith said the description of his role as a director was “shorthand” for a senior position at the firm, adding: “[Smith] was on the most senior director level in the UK, but they are only allowed to have one – in company terms – board and that is the USA, but it is a shorthand for what he did there.”

However, Smith’s website was updated a few hours later to remove mention of the Amgen board.

With the Conservatives now led by their second female prime minister, both candidates for the Labour leadership appear to be moving to establish their credentials on the issue of gender equality. Many female Labour MPs were disappointed that a chance to have a woman as leader was lost when Smith knocked Angela Eagle out of the competition against Corbyn.

Corbyn, the clear favourite to win the contest, has come in for criticism about not appointing enough women to top jobs during his time as leader, although Emily Thornberry holds the senior role of shadow foreign secretary and about 40% of his shadow cabinet are women.

On Thursday, the Labour leader made a promise to force employers with more than 21 staff to publish equality pay audits. “It is not only women who face workplace discrimination but disabled workers, the youngest and oldest workers, and black and ethnic minority workers,” he said.

At Smith’s event on Saturday – which will be attended by female activists, Labour party members and supporters – he is expected to say: “It remains the case that my daughter looks at a world where the gender pay gap is over 19%, and we have a Tory government whose failed austerity programme has seen women worse affected, through cuts to areas like tax credits and child benefit.

“If we are to change this and deliver greater equality, then the Labour party – the most powerful force for good this country has ever known – has to take a lead. A key part of this must be to secure equal representation of women throughout the leadership of our party.”

Corbyn will also hold a rally for his leadership on Saturday, in Salford, with thousands of supporters expected to attend. It is understood that he will aim to reach out to and beyond Labour’s half a million members, with a message based on “empowering people and communities to build a fairer society”.

He is expected to say: “We are a social movement … and we will win the next general election only as a social movement.

“Some people don’t get this yet … they think a movement is something instead of parliamentary politics. It’s not … It’s what will make a Labour government possible.

“We have lost the last two general elections … we cannot carry on as before.”

Simultaneously, there will be phone-banking events taking place in 10 cities to help persuade Labour members to pledge their support for Corbyn. The sessions will be streamed live online and will be linked up to the rally to show the scale of the activist movement behind the Labour leader, which propelled him to a landslide victory last year.

“What we really want to show is a surge of new members and engagement is a force that can be used as an enormously powerful electoral vehicle if we empower the members to become organisers and leaders themselves,” a Corbyn campaign source said.

This comes at the end of a dramatic week, in which Corbyn’s main challenger switched from Eagle, a former shadow business secretary, to Smith after she dropped out of the contest because she had less support among MPs.

However, Smith has not had an entirely easy ride, coming under attack over his professional past working for pharmaceutical multinationals. Diane Abbott, the shadow health secretary, criticised him for formerly working as a “lobbyist”.