After criticism of his choice of language, a spokesman for Smith said: “It was off-script and, on reflection, it was an inappropriate choice of phrase and he apologises for using it.”
Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign warned against the use of aggressive language following Smith’s remark. The Labour leader’s campaign spokesman called for a more careful use of words, considering the abusive atmosphere that has so far marred the contest.
“We need to be careful of the language we use during this contest as many members, including many female Labour MPs, have said they feel intimidated by aggressive language,” the spokesman said. “Jeremy has consistently called for a kinder, gentler politics. We should all reflect that in our political rhetoric.”
Smith’s language was criticised after he gave a speech about workers’ rights to an audience in Orgreave, South Yorkshire.
Arguing that Labour should be going after the prime minister’s policies harder, he said: “It pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels.
“These are our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal. But they will steal it, they will flood into the gap we leave, and if we split in this party – which is where I fear we are heading, and why I am standing here before you – they will continue to flood into that space.”
Challenged about his use of the phrase, Smith described it as “robust rhetoric”.
“We should be smashing the Tories back on their heels. Their ideals, their values, let’s smash them, let’s get Labour in,” he said. “It’s rhetoric. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back on her heels. I’m not advocating violence in any shape or form.”
The Corbyn campaign warning comes after more than 40 of his female Labour MPs signed a letter calling for him to do more to combat “an extremely worrying trend of escalating abuse and hostility”.
The open letter addressed to Corbyn, tweeted by the Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff and signed by her and 43 colleagues, condemns the Labour leader for what they call an inadequate response to threats and demonstrations by groups who support him in his battle with a rebellious parliamentary party.
It also expressed alarm that the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and other shadow ministers have addressed rallies where demonstrations outside MPs’ offices or bullying at constituency Labour party meetings have been “actively encouraged or quietly condoned”.
This article was written by Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 27th July 2016 14.18 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010