LABOUR leadership contender Liz Kendall has fiercely resisted pressure to quit the race to help one of her rivals stop the hard-left candidate Jeremy Corbyn from winning, as the party threatens to tear itself apart.
In another dramatic day in the Labour contest, the shadow care minister insisted she will fight to the very end but warned that a victory by the veteran left-wing backbencher would be a “disaster” for the party.
Quitting would be like me leaving my familyLiz Kendall, candidate
It came as senior party figures including Lord Prescott and Lord Mandelson turned on each other over the future of the party while a senior MP, veteran Frank Field, apologised for enabling Mr Corbyn to go on the ballot paper.
Ms Kendall is under pressure to quit the contest to allow the moderate vote to rally behind one of her two centrist rivals, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.
Asked if she would step aside, Ms Kendall, seen as the torchbearer for the Blairite right, said: “No. You never stop fighting for what you believe in. I will be fighting for what I believe in till the very end.”
She added: “It would be a disaster. Turning back to the politics of the 1980s, which saw us suffer defeat after defeat does nothing to help the people we all came into politics to serve.”
Ms Kendall has ruled out serving in a Corbyn shadow cabinet but insisted she would not leave the party if he wins in September.
“I’ll never ever do that,” she said. “That would be like me leaving my family.”
Mr Burnham made a surprise declaration that he would be prepared to serve in the shadow cabinet if Mr Corbyn became leader.
However, Ms Cooper appeared to rule herself out from joining Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he wins, saying “I will not stand for election” but then saying she would be willing to serve under a Corbyn leadership.
“If you are involved in politics and believe in the Labour Party, you shouldn’t just take your bat and ball home,” she said.
She admitted the party had been damaged by the decision to abstain in the Commons vote on the government’s welfare reforms - prompting 48 MPs to rebel, including Mr Corbyn.
“It was a complete mess. We voted for an amendment which would have blocked the bill, would have stopped it in its tracks, would have ditched the whole thing, but that got completely lost. The whole thing has been badly handled,” she said.
Ms Cooper also denied claims that she had failed to set out a distinctive position, insisting it was possible to campaign for a fairer society and a stronger economy.
“At the moment the Labour Party is being posed with this false choice - choose between your head and your heart, between your values, stick to your principles, be unelectable, or, alternatively, ditch all your principles in order to be elected. We can do both,” she said.
She drew a comparison with former prime minister Harold Wilson’s famous “white heat of technology” speech.
“He won elections with it - the white heat of technology - let’s have the white light of the digital age. That is something we can pull behind,” she said.
Amid bitter recriminations at the top of the party after one opinion poll put Mr Corbyn on course for a shock victory, Lord Mandelson warned that Labour’s future as a viable party of government was under threat.
But former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott rejected claims that it would be a “disaster” for Labour if the Islington North MP became leader and said it was Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq which had undermined support for the party.
He said the former prime minister’s suggestion that anyone whose heart told them they should back Mr Corbyn should “get a transplant” was “totally unacceptable”.
Lord Mandelson, one of the key architects of New Labour, said the party was struggling to deal with the “terrible legacy” left by Ed Miliband.
“Those of us who stayed and fought to save the Labour Party in the 1980s will be experiencing a growing sense of deja vu,” he said.
“The last five years have left us with a terrible legacy to overcome with the existence of the Labour Party as an effective electoral force now at stake.”
Mr Field – one of the MPs who “lent” their nomination to Mr Corbyn to ensure he was able to stand though they were not backing him for leader – expressed frustration at the failure of the other contenders to carry the fight to him.
“Sadly, the other candidates I don’t think have responded in the way I hoped they would do in taking the argument to him essentially about whether he is or is not a deficit denier,” he said.
“I hope that in this whole process at least one of the candidates who say they oppose Jeremy has actually got both the physical courage and the intellectual clout to start that debate.”