Labour leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey has given Jeremy Corbyn a “10 out of 10” rating but insisted she was not the “continuity candidate” to replace him.
The shadow business secretary acknowledged that Labour had not been not trusted on Brexit, tackling anti-Semitism or its policy platform as she acknowledged the failings that led to the party’s disastrous general election result.
But she praised Mr Corbyn’s leadership and character as she gave him a perfect score.
“I thought Corbyn was one of the most honest, kind, principled politicians I’ve ever met,” the shadow business secretary told ITV News as she launched her leadership bid.
“I’d give him 10 out of 10, because I respect him and I supported him all the way through.
“What we can’t ignore was that Jeremy was savaged from day one by the press … We have a role as party to develop the image of our leader and to put them forward in the most positive way, but we also have a duty to rebut criticism and attacks.
“As a party we needed to have a rebuttal unit, a clear structure in place to rebut the attacks against him.”
On the BBC’s Today programme she set out the problems which saw the party lose 59 seats at the general election.
“We weren’t trusted on Brexit,” she said.
“We weren’t trusted as a party to tackle the crisis of anti-Semitism.
“We weren’t trusted on our policies, no matter how radical or detailed they were. They simply didn’t hit the ground running.”
In a break from Mr Corbyn, she signalled she would be prepared to press the nuclear button if she became prime minister.
“If you have a deterrent you have to be prepared to use it,” she said, but stressed she was “not going to be a warmonger”.
Ms Long-Bailey – the favourite of the Labour left – said she could be trusted to maintain “our socialist agenda”, comments that will be seen as a thinly-veiled swipe at shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer.
Party chairman Ian Lavery immediately announced he would not be standing and would be backing Ms Long-Bailey.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell confirmed that he too would be backing Ms Long-Bailey and also supporting Richard Burgon for the vacant deputy leader’s role.
The new Labour leader and deputy will be announced at a conference on Saturday April 4.
Sir Keir used an article on the LabourList website to highlight the importance of trade unions to the party.
Securing the support of unions could be crucial in the second stage of the Labour leadership battle.
Sir Keir said: “We did not lose the election because we promised to boost public sector pay, restore collective bargaining, give workers a real say in their workplaces, invest in our public services or end outsourcing to the private sector.
“We did not lose because we believe public services like the railways should be in public hands rather delivering profits for shareholders.”
In an apparent effort to reassure the left of the party that he could be trusted, Sir Keir said there could be “no sacrificing our core principles” and “no over-steering or accepting the Tory narrative”.
“We are a party and a movement that opposes austerity, supports common ownership and believes in public services,” he said.
In addition to Ms Long-Bailey and Sir Keir, four other candidates have announced they intend to stand for the leadership – frontbenchers Emily Thornberry and Clive Lewis, and backbenchers Jess Phillips and Lisa Nandy.
Former Cabinet minister Yvette Cooper and Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis both ruled out leadership bids.
The candidates will be questioned by their fellow MPs at a private hustings in Westminster on Tuesday night.
In the race for the deputy post triggered by Tom Watson’s decision to quit, shadow sport minister Rosena Allin-Khan and Labour’s only MP in Scotland, Ian Murray, become the latest candidates to launch their bids.
Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, has conducted a mini-reshuffle of his top team as he prepares for the final four months of his leadership.
Ex-Coronation Street actor Tracy Brabin replaces Mr Watson as shadow culture secretary, while Rachael Maskell takes over from Laura Pidcock, who lost her seat at the election, as shadow employment rights secretary.
Luke Pollard takes ex-MP Sue Hayman’s position as shadow environment secretary, having previously served as the party’s fisheries spokesman.