Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper look set to stand for the Labour leadership if Jeremy Corbyn crashes to defeat, party insiders said today.
Mr Umunna, the Streatham MP, was said to have been approached by colleagues pressing him to stand, while Ms Cooper, the former shadow home secretary, was described as “working the Tea Rooms hard” to drum up support before Parliament is dissolved.
Labour MPs say there is a growing view that an experienced figure, such as one of the pair of former frontbenchers, will be needed rather than a political newcomer if there is a challenge to Mr Corbyn after the election.
A challenge is seen as inevitable because insiders think Mr Corbyn will seek to stay on as leader, even if defeated, long enough to change party rules so that Left-wingers will in future be assured of places on the ballot paper in leadership contests.
Ms Cooper stole Mr Corbyn’s thunder at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday with a spirited attack on Theresa May for breaking her promise not to hold a snap general election.
“That was Yvette’s first leadership speech,” commented a Labour MP. A string of Labour MPs took to Twitter to heap praise on her performance, including Ben Bradshaw who called it a “cracker of a question”.
She last year took over as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee and has become increasingly prominent in the Commons.
Mr Umunna considered standing in 2015 but withdrew before the contest started.
He played a major role in the EU referendum on the Remain side and has formed a group that meets privately to formulate Labour policy and campaign ideas.
Other contenders are likely to include former shadow cabinet member Clive Lewis, who resigned as business spokesman to rebel on the Brexit Bill.
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary is tipped to run from the party’s Left wing if Mr Corbyn resigns, while shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey is said to be being groomed for the top job by shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
Former contender Andy Burnham has confirmed he will stand down as MP at the general election.
The latest opinion poll was bleak for Mr Corbyn, showing the Conservative lead over Labour widening to 24 points, the biggest for nine years.
The Conservatives were at 48 per cent, Labour on 24, the Liberal Democrats on 12, and Ukip on seven, according to the YouGov survey for The Times.
Last week, the pollster put the gap at 21 points. The poll also found Mrs May leading on the question of “best prime minister” by 54 per cent to just 15 for Mr Corbyn.