LABOUR leadership front-runner Jeremy Corbyn has warned senior party figures they are underestimating the “huge levels of public support” for his campaign as the contest becomes increasingly acrimonious.
The radical left-winger dismissed claims that he did not want to be prime minister, insisting his “serious” pitch for the top job was the “greatest opportunity” for the party to win back voters who have turned to the Conservatives and Ukip.
Mr Corbyn’s two main rivals, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, have been engaged in a bitter fight over who is best placed to stop the backbencher’s rise, with both camps demanding the other clear the way.
Mr Burnham has tried to win over Mr Corbyn’s supporters by insisting they share “common ground” and suggested that the Islington North MP did not want to take the party all the way to No 10.
Talking to supporters in central London, Mr Corbyn laughed off claims he did not want to be prime minister.
He said: “Why would I be here, why would our campaign be here, if we didn’t want to win this campaign.
“I heard Andy’s comments. I didn’t spill my coffee at the time. I smiled.”
Mocking apparent plots among opponents to prevent him from winning the contest, he went on: “I do not think anyone should pull out. They have been nominated, they are valid candidates.
“We have some more hustings coming up, we will continue the debate.
“If others want to debate arcane procedures that’s up to them.
“We are in this campaign because we are serious. We are in this campaign because we have huge levels of public support.”
He accused prominent internal critics – including former party leaders Lord Kinnock, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – of failing properly to read his policies or understand their appeal.
Mr Burnham has warned it would be harder to unite the party following the leadership contest if “bad blood” and “negativity” were allowed to take over.
He said yesterday: “If we let this bad blood as you describe it, the negativity, take over, this party will be harder to unite coming out of this contest and that is what I am focused on.
“I want to win this contest and then unite this party.”