Jess Phillips has abandoned her bid to be Labour leader, acknowledging that she would not be able to unite the party.
The outspoken backbencher said the party needed a figure who could bring the party together and help reverse the “cataclysmic” election defeat.
She said: “I truly believe that unless we talk to the country on their terms, not just on ours, that we won’t be able to make the gains we need to win an election – and do what everyone in the Labour movement wants to do, and that is make people’s lives better.
“In order to do that, the Labour Party will need to select a candidate that can unite all parts of our movement – the union movement, the members and elected representatives – I have to be honest that at this time, that person isn’t me.
“In order to win the country, we are going to have to find a candidate in this race who can do that and take that message out to the country of hope and change for things to be better.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer is the frontrunner in the Labour contest, having already secured his place on the final ballot paper as a result of nominations from the unions Unison and Usdaw and the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (Sera), an affiliate group.
Sir Keir, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and former shadow cabinet minister Lisa Nandy were all at the GMB union hustings in London, while speculation about Ms Phillips’s future was fuelled by her absence from the event.
Candidates need the nominations of three Labour affiliates, including at least two unions, which amount to at least 5% of affiliate members.
The only other route on to the ballot paper is by receiving nominations from at least 33 constituency Labour parties (CLPs).
Ms Thornberry said she was “very sorry” that Ms Phillips had pulled out of the contest, arguing that favourites Sir Keir and Ms Long-Bailey needed to face a challenge.
She said: “We need to broaden our debate, not narrow it, and force the two favourites to prove they’re up to the fight by pitting them against some real strength.
“Jess is a sad loss in that effort, but we will keep going.”
Ms Nandy also said she was sorry that Ms Phillips had dropped out, adding: “She has made waves, shown great friendship and I’ll miss her in this contest.”