Angela Eagle has fired her opening salvo at Jeremy Corbyn in a Labour leadership battle which has the potential to split the party and end up in a bitter legal wrangle.
The former shadow cabinet minister, who was the most senior MP to resign in the revolt against Mr Corbyn, said he is “not a leader” and accused him of “hiding behind a closed door” in denial of the chaos around him.
Mr Corbyn has vowed to resist the challenge, saying it would be “irresponsible” for him to quit, and he threatened legal action if his name is not on the ballot in a leadership contest.
Owen Smith, another potential challenger, demanded emergency talks with Mr Corbyn and suggested the leader and his allies are prepared to split the party.
Speaking to ITV’s Peston on Sunday show, Ms Eagle said Mr Corbyn had not been able to “communicate with the electorate” and “he’s now lost the confidence of the parliamentary party”.
She added: “Jeremy lost us local councillors in the elections, we have failed to win the EU referendum which is going to cause enormous stress and pressure in our country, that is not the leadership that will take us forward.
“I tried over nine months to support Jeremy and his leadership.
“He’s not a bad man. He’s not a leader, though.”
Mr Corbyn and his allies have insisted the Labour rulebook means he will automatically be on the ballot and any challenger will have to secure the names of 51 MPs – 20 per cent of the party’s parliamentarians in Westminster and Brussels – to be nominated.
But opponents have interpreted the document to mean that Mr Corbyn will also require the support of MPs to stand – something which is unlikely to happen.
The party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) will decide on the rules after a contest is formally triggered, with Ms Eagle set to officially launch her bid today.
Ms Eagle did not set out policy areas where she differs from Mr Corbyn, but said he is not able to win a general election.
“I’m on the left, any party that I lead will be an anti-austerity party because what’s happened in our heartlands is that they have been hit by six years of Conservative cuts piled up on to them,” she told BBC1’s Sunday Politics show.
“I think that I want to lead a strong, united opposition to get into government.”
She said it is “not clear from the Labour Party rules” whether Mr Corbyn should be on the ballot, but added: “Anyone who aspires to lead the parliamentary party who cannot get 51 members, 20 per cent of the parliamentary party, to back them is not going to be able to do the job properly.”
On BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Corbyn said he had “reached out in a way no other leader has” in an attempt to unite all parts of the party.
“I’m expecting to be on the ballot paper because the rules of the party indicate that the existing leader, if challenged, should be on the ballot paper anyway,” he said.
He added that he would be prepared to go to court if the NEC ruled he would not automatically be on the leadership ballot.
“I will challenge that if that is the view they take,” he said.
He added that he was “disappointed” by Ms Eagle’s stance but it would be “irresponsible” for him to quit because of the mandate he had been given by members.