SENIOR figures in the Labour party have rallied to support leader Ed Miliband amid speculation that two members of the shadow cabinet are preparing a bid to take over from him.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper was forced to dismiss as “nonsense” that she and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham are preparing to offer Labour members a joint ticket if Mr Miliband steps down.
Shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith added to Mr Miliband’s pressure by telling a thinktank that Labour “is dying”.
But with backbench MPs reportedly calling for Mr Miliband to step down, senior figures came out in support of him.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, who was rapidly promoted by Mr Miliband, said: “Ed Miliband is the right person to lead Labour and the right person to lead Britain. He has shown the ideas and the leadership to take Labour into government and to complete the historic task of Labour as a one-term opposition.
“We’re focused on the issues that matter to voters - on the cost of living crisis facing my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent, on the NHS, on reforming technical and vocational education to give every young person the opportunity to reach his or her potential.
“We’re a united party and that will remain as we expose the failures of David Cameron’s woeful record.”
Mr Burnham dismissed as “complete and pure fiction” a claim that he was involved in secret talks about what to do if Ed Miliband quits as Labour leader.
Mr Burnham insisted the party was united behind Mr Miliband as senior Labour figures rallied round the leader amid reports that backbench MPs want him removed from the job.
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The shadow health secretary angrily denied reports that he had been in talks with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper about a deal to present a joint platform in the event of a vacancy for the leadership.
Mr Burnham said: “The stories in today’s newspapers are complete and pure fiction. There is not a shred of truth in them.
“What I think it’s part of is a deliberate and desperate attempt to destabilise the Labour Party and to divide us. But I can say this: it won’t work. We are a united team, we are united behind Ed.”
He said: “My focus is on the NHS, exposing the damage that this Government is doing and working hard to deliver the Labour government that this country needs and certainly that my constituency needs.
“That is where my focus is. I’m working hard to support Ed Miliband in every single way I can.”
Ms Cooper and Mr Burnham - among the leading candidates to take over in the event of a vacancy - were reported by The Times to have struck a “non-aggression pact” in the event of a contest to choose a new leader.
A spokesman for Ms Cooper dismissed the suggestion as “lies, complete and utter garbage” and insisted there was “no foundation whatsoever”.
Labour’s election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander issued a plea for the party to “pull together”, warning: “Divided parties lose elections”, while veteran Peter Hain told “mutterers” in Labour ranks to stop feeding speculation.
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