Sir Keir Starmer’s campaign to become the next Labour leader was given a huge boost after the UK’s biggest union said it was endorsing the shadow Brexit secretary.
Mr Starmer also raced into the lead in the tally of nominations from parliamentary colleagues, cementing his status as the front-runner to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.
There were further signs the coalition that propelled Mr Corbyn to the party leadership was fracturing, with MPs splitting their nominations rather than backing the leading left-wing candidates for leader and deputy leader.
Mr Starmer has 23 nominations from the parliamentary Labour party – placing him well ahead of his main rival, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, who is on seven so far.
The tally of support means he is guaranteed to enter the next stage of the leadership contest, just two days after it was triggered.
According to figures published by the Labour Party, backbencher Jess Phillips has six MP backers, while Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has two.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has just one nomination so far, and Clive Lewis has none.
Candidates need nominations from 10 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – which totals 212, making the required threshold 22.
Nominations from MPs and MEPs close on Monday.
Candidates who receive enough nominations will then enter phase two of the contest, where they have to secure the backing of 5 per cent of constituency Labour branches or at least three affiliate groups, two of which must be made up of trade unions, to get on to the final ballot paper and face election by the membership.
In both his leadership contests, Mr Corbyn secured the support of the majority of Labour-affiliated trades unions, including the biggest, Unison. However, the union announced it was backing Mr Starmer, in a major endorsement from the left for a candidate seen as moderate in the contest.
Unison also thew its support behind shadow education secretary and Corbyn ally Angela Rayner for deputy leader.
The decision was taken by the union’s Labour Link committee, which is made up entirely of Labour members.
General secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is a pivotal time for Labour.
“We believe – if elected by the membership – Keir Starmer would be a leader to bring the party together and win back the trust of the thousands of voters who deserted Labour last month.”
Mr Starmer said he was “honoured” to receive the union’s backing.