YVETTE Cooper has taken a major step towards becoming Labour’s next leader after receiving the backing of one of its most popular figures.
Alan Johnson’s endorsement of Ms Cooper will help the Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP position herself as the candidate with the best chance of blocking surprise frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn from winning.
The backing of the former Home Secretary and Hull West and Hessle MP is also expected to help Ms Cooper secure crucial second preference votes ahead of fellow candidates Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham.
Mr Johnson was repeatedly touted as a possible replacement for Ed Miliband as Labour leader prior to the General Election but he resisted calls from within the party to mount a challenge.
Writing for The Guardian, Mr Johnson said: “In my view only Yvette Cooper can unite the party to win again. Those members who can’t give her their first preference should give her their second.
“After over a century of male leaders we have an election where the most qualified candidate to lead our party back to government happens to be a woman. Let’s end the madness and elect her.”
Mr Corbyn, who brought his campaign to Leeds today, barely scraped together enough nominations from fellow MPs to make it onto the leadership ballot but his candidacy has proved very popular with the party’s grassroots and he has received the most support from constituency parties.
The left-winger’s success has triggered alarm in sections of the party concerned he will take Labour further away from the centre ground and any hope of winning the next General Election.
With Ms Kendall’s campaign faltering, Ms Cooper and Mr Burnham are now fighting over the role of most credible challenger.
A spokeswoman for the Yvette for Labour campaign said: “Alan Johnson is a major figure in the Labour Party who has contributed and achieved a huge amount. We are delighted he is backing Yvette to be the next leader of the Labour Party and first woman Labour Prime Minister.
“Alan recognises Yvette is the only credible candidate to win both the leadership contest and the General Election in 2020. She can lead a progressive Labour Government that delivers real change.”
Meanwhile, leadership rival andy burnham promised cheaper train tickets for part-time workers among a package of measures aimed at helping parents juggle jobs and family life.
The shadow health secretary’s leadership pitch will also include a pledge to review the cost and standard of childcare which currently means returning to work part-time is “out of the question” for many parents.
The right for an employee to request flexible working would be available from the very first day in a job under his plans, rather than the current system which requires six months in a post before a request can be made.
In his forthcoming manifesto Mr Burnham will say: “We need to tackle the inequalities that stifle growth and productivity by preventing women from reaching their full potential in the workplace.
“Both mothers and fathers have to juggle caring responsibilities and work, but it is women that bear much of the cost of this daily struggle.
“As Labour leader, I will argue for better support for Britain’s part-time workers”.