With Jeremy Corbyn leading the race to be Ed Miliband’s successor, rival Andy Burnham revealed on Wednesday that he would serve in a future shadow cabinet under the veteran Islington MP. The shadow health secretary made the admission hours after fresh polling confirmed the backbencher's position as the front-runner in the leadership race.
Fellow leadership hopeful Yvette Cooper also revealed she was open to a position as a future frontbencher should Corbyn win, however Liz Kendall, who has run on a platform of modernisation, ruled herself out of the shadow cabinet.
During a leadership hustings on LBC, Kendall chastised Corbyn’s campaign, saying a win would exclude the party from power for "a generation". She said: "I think it would be disastrous for the party, it would be disastrous for the country, we'll be out of power for a generation," she said. "I don't want to be a party of protest and I wouldn't be able to stop myself from making that case
Pressed whether he would take a shadow cabinet position under Corbyn, Burnham said: "I would. I would serve the Labour Party at any level it asked me to serve the Labour Party." Cooper revealed: "I'd be torn because the truth is I think it would be quite hard given the differences in terms of policy. The other thing is I don't think you should walk away from the Labour Party." Cooper did eventually confirm she would not stand in shadow cabinet elections if Corbyn became leader.
The debate came at the end of a fractious day for Labour as its factions clashed over the future direction it should take following its woeful general election performance. Tony Blair issued a warning to the party not to repeat the mistakes of the 1980s which consigned Labour to 18 years in opposition.
The former prime minister said a shift to the left after the party's crushing general election defeat would be to treat voters as if they were "stupid". He derided Corbyn as the "Tory preference" and said the party could not regain power if it was simply a "platform for protest" against cuts. “It would not take the country forwards, it would take it backwards," he said. "This is why when people say 'My heart says I should really be with that politics' - get a transplant."
Research by YouGov for The Times found Corbyn was the first preference for 43% of party supporters - way ahead of bookies' favourite Burnham on 26%, while Cooper was on 20% and Kendall 11%.
During the radio hustings, the contenders were put on the spot by Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who phoned as "Nigel from Kent" to challenge the Labour candidates over whether they could ever see themselves voting No in the referendum on EU membership. Kendall said she was a Yes voter "first and last and always" while Cooper said: "If I thought it wasn't in Britain's interest, I would vote No, but I think it is in Britain's interests."
Asked if there were circumstances in which he might vote No, Burnham said: "There aren't, because I always will believe that being in Europe is better for jobs in our country.” Pressed by the other candidates to say whether he could ever vote No, Corbyn said that "if Europe becomes a totally brutal organisation which treats member states in the way it has treated Greece, then it would lose the support of many people.”
Corbyn was the only one of the candidates who said he would bring Miliband into his shadow cabinet. The MP also emerged as the only contender never to have taken drugs, saying he was "really boring."