Dan Jarvis, the former paratrooper tipped to replace Ed Miliband, today rules himself out of the race and launches a devastating critique of the former Labour leader.
Supporters of Mr Jarvis, a former major who served in Afghanistan, believed he was best placed to reconnect the party with its voters and present a new face and fresh start after its crushing defeat.
However, in an article in The Times he says that it is “not the right time for my family” following the death of his wife, Caroline, from cancer in 2011. “My eldest kids had a very tough time when they lost their mum and I don’t want them to lose their dad. I need some space for them, my wife and our youngest child right now, and I wouldn’t have it as leader of the opposition.”
His decision – taken just yesterday – will be a blow to Labour figures convinced that Mr Jarvis, who only became an MP four years ago, offered the party its best chance of a successful come-back in 2020.
In an admonishment of Mr Miliband’s shortcomings, he says Labour never moved out of its “comfort zone”, failed to offer a positive alternative, did not appeal to voters’ aspirations and allowed the Conservatives to “steal” the party’s offer to spread power more evenly from south to north.
Mr Jarvis also calls for Labour to admit that spending levels had left Britain more vulnerable to the global financial crisis in 2007 than was wise.
“Were we this focused on looking after every pound before 2007? Clearly not. Would the last government have been in a stronger position to respond to the financial crisis if we had been? Of course. And we should say so. Only then will we be able to regain trust as safe custodians of taxpayers’ money,” he writes.
His decision leaves Liz Kendall as the only candidate to have declared openly that she will run for the leadership. Other hopefuls, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt, have courted the media but evaded direct questions on their intentions.
Mr Umunna, who was filmed arriving for his interview on the BBC’sAndrew Marr Show holding hands with his girlfriend Alice Sullivan, an employment lawyer with Lewis Silkin, gave a detailed account of why he thought Labour had fallen short in what was widely seen as a setting-out of his stall ahead of a leadership bid.
Both he and Mr Hunt, the shadow education secretary, suggested the party’s catastrophic election defeat was down to its failure to capture the imagination of voters.
However Mr Umunna said it was “too early” to say whether he would run while Mr Hunt claimed the debate was about “more than just leadership” at the moment and said he had not made up his mind.
Ms Kendall, the shadow care minister who has been MP for Leicester West since 2010, was more direct. Asked by Andrew Neil on the BBC’s Sunday Politics if she would run, she simply replied “yes”.
In a forthright interview, the shadow health minister also conceded it would be “phenomenally difficult” to sufficiently rebuild the party around a more attractive pitch to voters in time to defeat the Conservatives in 2020.
“It is not just enough to critique what is going on — you have to set out something people can believe in,” she added.
In his own brutal assessment, Lord Mandelson condemned Mr Miliband’s tenure as a “giant political experiment” which failed. Asked what was missing from Mr Miliband’s approach, the former business secretary told BBC Radio 5 Live: “An economic policy.”
He also called on Labour to end the trade unions’ “abuse and inappropriate” influence over its leadership selection process. Lord Mandelson said the unions have an important role to play in society and politics but added: “I am not happy with a Labour party so clearly dependent on people who pay the piper and then in many cases can call the tune.
“That’s not a good look, that’s not right for a Labour party appealing for votes in the 21st century.”
Mr Miliband changed the leadership election rules to end the electoral “college” system which gave a third of the votes to union members and other affiliated organisations.
Unions must now ask members whether they want to join Labour and then register their details with the party. Senior union figures have warned they have not had time to do this, however, and the issue is likely to prompt a showdown at this week’s meeting of the National Executive Committee.
There is also expected to be disagreement over how long the leadership race should last. Senior figures from across the party pushed for the race to be extended through the annual conference in September. Party officials had previously said the next leader would be selected before Labour conference.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow cabinet office minister and a member of the NEC, said: “We need a leadership contest that tests all contenders. I’m pushing for a long contest that allows all to give speeches at conference.”
This was supported by Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, who told the BBC: “We need a really decent, long, thought-through process because I agree with some of the candidates that it’s not necessarily the figurehead we need, we need to make sure we’ve got the right cargo on board.”
This comes as Tom Watson, the Labour MP, declared he will stand in the race for deputy leader to replace Harriet Harman.