Speaking during a BBC hustings on Sunday, the race’s frontrunner Andy Burnham said he “might be open” to giving Corbyn, the most leftwing of the four candidates, a position in his shadow cabinet if he were to win the contest.
“I think he’s said things in this contest that are important and that people have responded to, clearly,” said Burnham. “I think the Labour party has got to come back together after this leadership contest.”
A spokesperson for Burnham later claimed his comments were made in jest and that he “couldn’t envisage any circumstances” where Corbyn would be on Burnham’s frontbench.
Yvette Cooper said she would not “draw up shadow cabinets in advance of the leadership election”, adding that there were a lot of areas she and Corbyn disagreed on.
“Pretending to share Jeremy’s politics is not a strategy for Labour winning in 2020,” said Toby Perkins, the MP for Chesterfield who is heading Kendall’s campaign. “Liz is the only candidate who has shown the sort of leadership needed to get us back into government.”
When Kendall – who is considered the most rightwing of the candidates – was asked during Sunday’s hustings if she would have Corbyn in her shadow cabinet, she said: “I haven’t made any decisions about that yet, but I don’t think Jeremy’s and my politics is anything like the same.”
Corbyn currently has the highest number of constituency Labour party nominations, with 70 to Burnham’s 68, and two private polls this week put him ahead in the race, though doubts have been cast on their reliability by – among others – Diane Abbott, the MP for Hackney North, one of his most prominent backers.
The news spread panic through the party’s backbenchers, with the MP for Islington North’s odds improving from 100/1 at the start of the campaign in May to 5/1.
The Independent on Sunday reported that MPs are already preparing to organise a response: in the event of a Corbyn victory they would immediately start gathering the 47 names needed to trigger his removal.
“We cannot just allow our party, a credible party of government, to be hijacked in this summer of madness,” one MP told the paper. “There would be no problem in getting names. We could do this before Christmas.”
A senior Labour MP told the Mail on Sunday that he was trying to gather support to call off the contest, on the grounds that Conservative party supporters were signing up to vote for Corbyn in a bid to damage Labour’s election chances.
On Monday, parliament will vote on the government’s welfare bill, which the acting Labour leader, Harriet Harman, announced last Sunday the party would not be blocking, much to the fury of many of her colleagues.
Harman tried to defuse a rebellion over welfare by tabling an amendment setting out why the party disagrees with the government’s proposed bill, after Helen Goodman, the MP for Bishop Auckland, tabled a backbench amendment opposing the bill without the permission of the party’s leadership.
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