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Tony Robinson On Labour: "We've Had The Dust-Up, Now Let's Work Together"

The actor and campaigner backed Owen Smith during the leadership campaign. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, he calls on both sides to "conjure up some goodwill" and unite.

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Actor and writer Tony Robinson has called on the Labour party to stop fighting and "conjure up some goodwill" if it is serious about winning the next general election.

Robinson, a longtime Labour activist, has been supporting Owen Smith's bid to replace Jeremy Corbyn as leader because he believes he has the best chance of becoming prime minister.

But the Blackadder star said both camps had made unfair judgments about each other and needed to unite for the sake of the party. Voting in the contest closed at noon on Wednesday, with the result due to be announced on Saturday.

Corbyn is widely expected to retain the leadership and Smith has insisted he does not "regret" standing against him. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Robinson said it was now "beholden on both sides" to put aside their differences.

"We’ve enjoyed the luxury of saying 'we’re right, the other lot are shit' for the better part of a year now," he said. "Well, OK, now that we’ve had the big dust-up, that’s all over, it’s incumbent on both sides to find ways of engaging with the other side.

"Personally I think it’s fantastic that we’ve got all these new members and I think we need to stop being frightened of them. On the other hand, I think it’s grossly unfair to say the MPs are all class traitors and horrible and need to be shown the door.

"I know a lot of them personally and they’re absolutely committed to the Labour party and to disadvantaged people in our country. And I think if we are to win the next election, there is nothing that is more important, nothing at all, than recognising the strengths of the other side of the debate."

Robinson, who served on Labour's National Executive Committee in the early 2000s, said: "I think the gap between the two sides is one that ought to be bridgeable if we can find ways of conjuring up some goodwill on both sides – and that will take an enormous amount of imagination.

"If we’re going to make a success of what appears a nightmare at the moment then we have to assert that goodwill, we have to accept that most of Jeremy’s supporters are good, passionate idealistic people who just want to change the world.

"And they have to accept the fact that most of the MPs are actually good people who’ve given their lives to politics rather than making a profit in industry."

The 70-year-old actor, who has voiced campaign videos for Smith, has incurred the wrath of some Corbyn supporters since he started tweeting regularly in August – particularly when he has defended moderate Labour MPs such as Jess Phillips.

If people like the brilliant and dedicated @jessphillips are being made to feel unwelcome in our party then something has gone badly wrong.

"Isn’t it great that there is a woman MP who is not part of the leadership who is clearly a very strong feminist who will not be filtered out by any notions of correctness and will say what she likes?" he said.

"OK, you might disagree with her, you might think a lot of what she says is really mouthy – she’d probably be the first person to agree with that analysis – but the fact that she’s doing it is absolutely great."

Robinson said he doesn't let abuse on Twitter get to him personally, but warned that it's symptomatic of how divided the party has become.

"I think when people are really horrible to me, the first few probably hurt a bit but then after that you just see it as a strange phenomenon – why are you doing that, why would you use that language?" he said.

"We are actually in the same party, we’re supposed to go out knocking on doors together, why ever would you speak to me like that? I think that kind of language is a terribly juvenile mistake and nothing more.

"One of the lovely things about Twitter is that when someone's being vile to me there’s always half a dozen people who will leap to my defence. And at that time it feels like the Labour party that I know. And I would much rather concentrate on that than on the fact that somebody called me a cunt."

Robinson said he was backing Smith, MP for Pontypridd, because he had the best chance of putting Labour's ideas into practice. The actor and presenter insisted he was not opposed to many of Corbyn's policies but feared that he could never lead the party to power.

"I think there are an awful lot of aspects where they’re not far apart policy-wise," he said. "My guess is they would be a long way apart as far as delivery was concerned – and it’s always been that that’s been the real issue for me.

"I think the smart thing to do is vote for the candidate who’s likely to deliver what you want. So if I wanted world peace, I don’t think the clever thing to do would be work out which candidate had attended the most CND [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament] meetings and use that as my only criteria for whom I was going to vote for.

"Because I would know that if I wanted world peace, I would have to get the senior echelons of the army onside, and the UN onside, and the majority of the English voters, the unions, and that is a very subtle and complex thing to do.

"And so whenever I’ve looked for a leader, I’ve looked for the person who has got the most skills at leadership, not just what their opinions are."

Robinson said he was "not at all surprised" that Corbyn "hasn't been able to deliver" as Labour leader over the past year.

"I think Prime Minister’s Questions is the perfect example of that," he said. "He has a notion that somehow by being stark and using the voice of ordinary people that that would make a difference, and it did for about one and a half goes at it.

"After that it just became tedious and sounded like a man who’d only got one thing to say. And sadly I think he’s made that mistake an awful lot. Having said that, he did do well against Theresa May last week and I think it would be churlish and uncomradely not to accept the fact that he has had some wins."

Asked whether Corbyn could lead Labour to victory at the next general election, he said: "No, I don’t have very much confidence. If that is what the membership decides, then we must all try and ensure that that is going to happen.

"But if I was in a betting shop and was going to put a quid on which of the two was most likely to lead us to a Labour victory I would choose Owen every time. I think he’s in a very old, effective tradition of young, South Welsh, determined intellectuals, many of whom have done so well for us in the past."

He insisted he had "absolutely no idea" whether Smith would win the leadership contest this weekend, adding: "I’m as close to it as you are." But he underlined his call for both camps to recognise each other's strengths.

"I feel we’ve all got so close to this issue in the Labour party that it’s made us myopic," he said. "We’re all staring into the sweetshop window, our noses are so firmly pressed against the glass that we can’t see anything at all – we’re just going, 'I’m right, everything anyone else does is wrong.'

"And both sides of this debate have got into this sad and foolish position."

Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Emily Ashton at emily.ashton@buzzfeed.com.

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