LABOUR’S new election coordinator has said the party has plenty of other potential leaders in its ranks if Jeremy Corbyn decides to quit before the next general election.
In comments likely to add to the impression that Mr Corbyn's leadership is now in freefall, Ian Lavery said Labour had “lots of quality” able to replace him.
Mr Lavery was speaking after Labour had to deny its polling of voter opinions about two other left-wing MPs, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Angela Rayner, was “succession planning”.
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Mr Lavery, who was made joint election coordinator with Andrew Gwynne on Friday, told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live the two female MPs were “fantastic candidates”.
He said: “I think we have got lots of quality in the Labour Party and it’s not just the two that’s been mentioned.
“There's plenty of leaders to pick from if and when Jeremy decides, of his own volition, that it's not for him at the election. That isn't the case at this point in time.”
Mr Lavery also appeared to concede Labour was heading for a bad night in the forthcoming Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland byelections, suggesting defeats would be “hiccups”.
Ukip is Labour’s main challenger in Stoke-on-Trent, but if the Tories won Copeland, Mr Corbyn would be the first official opposition leader to lose a byelection to the Government in 35 years.
Mr Lavery said: “We obviously want to win, that goes without saying; but if there’s any hiccups in the next couple of weeks, then we would need to then look forward to the shire council
elections, the different local elections, the mayoralty elections come May as well.”
Labour polling leaked to The Sunday Times suggested Mr Corbyn was the least popular national party leader, and focus groups regarded him as "boring" and "fed up".
Shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti told ITV's Peston on Sunday that if Labour lost the forthcoming by-elections in Stoke and Cumbria, Mr Corbyn would remain leader.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said Mr Corbyn had to improve his popularity ratings.
But he told BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that the polling about Ms Long-Bailey and Ms Rayner was routine, and not "road testing leadership candidates".
He added: "This is not the time for a leadership election. He [Mr Corbyn] got a second mandate from our members last year, he is now the established leader of the Labour Party. He has to explain those and he has to improve on them and he's well aware of that."
Norwich MP Clive Lewis, who resigned from Labour’s front bench last week after refusing to support Mr Corbyn’s three-line whip backing Article 50, denied he was sounding out colleagues about a possible leadership run.
"You can quote me on this. It is total b******s," he told the Eastern Daily Press.
Mr Corbyn is due to speak at the Scottish Labour conference later this month, when leader Kezia Dugdale is counting on him to back her new policy on the constitution.
Ms Dugdale will today publish the motion she wants delegates to back on February 24, which would see federalism adopted as official Scottish Labour policy.
However the motion admits the Brexit vote and 2014 referendum result “showed the appetite for change across our country”.
Ms Dugdale has said the UK Labour Party will soon convene a cross-party convention to devise a federal system for the UK by 2020, followed by a “new Act of Union”.
She said: “It has become clear that our country is not working for working people. Too many feel disenfranchised, disempowered and left behind. The gulf between the government and the governed cannot be allowed to grow further.
“We are firmly opposed to a second independence referendum. We believe that together we’re stronger. Today our country is deeply divided, not just by constitutional politics but by economic inequality.
“So to restore faith in our politics, build a more united society and create an economy that works for working people, I believe that we need to create a more federal UK.”