Dawn Butler, a prominent Jeremy Corbyn ally, denied on Saturday she was preparing to challenge Sir Keir Starmer for the Labour leadership, amid claims of a hard-Left plot to replace the Labour leader after the Batley and Spen by-election.
Ms Butler, who was a frontbencher under Mr Corbyn, was seen in the West Yorkshire constituency with a camera crew last week, leading to speculation that she was putting together material for a leadership bid.
Labour sources believe the MP is banking on the party losing the seat on Thursday for the first time since 1997, before announcing a bid to replace Sir Keir the following day.
It is believed that Ms Butler would gain the support of the 34-strong Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, including Mr Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.
In a statement issued to The Telegraph, Ms Butler said: “Like many MPs, I travelled up to Batley this week to support Kim Leadbeater and work for a Labour win.
“I never have been, and never will be, part of a coup against a Labour leader and have no interest in standing against Keir. Labour needs to improve – and that was clear from some of the doorstep conversations – but that is up to the current leadership to put right.”
If the Conservatives gain Batley and Spen from Labour, effectively knocking out another brick in Labour’s Red Wall, Sir Keir will face renewed calls to quit. Ms Butler’s statement did not rule out launching a leadership bid if Sir Keir stands down, triggering a formal contest.
A source said that the camera crew was from Byline TV, whose website lists Ms Butler as a “contributor”. The crew “travelled up entirely separately”, the source said.
Following her visit to the constituency on Thursday, Ms Butler, who launched an unsuccessful bid to become deputy Labour leader last year, tweeted: “Speaking to the wonderful people in Batley and Spen I heard the disappointment in the direction of our country.
“I know Labour can do better, and can have stronger policies and directions.” She said Kim Leadbeater, the Labour candidate “has the ideas that will help direct the party.”
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a hard-left MP and a friend of Ms Butler who joined her in Batley and Spen, said that residents spoke of “disappointment” with Sir Keir.
He said: “There was no anger against Kim particularly, there was no anger against Labour. It was disappointment, and always disappointment with Keir.
“I have knocked for a long time on doors. I’ve knocked when Tony Blair was leader. And people complained about Tony Blair, I’ve knocked on doors when Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband were leaders and they complained about it. And same with Jeremy, so you have to take a bit of a pinch of salt.
“But this time, what was different is: it wasn’t anger. It was just disappointment, feeling let down real, a feeling that Keir had let them down.
“And they were saying look, we will vote for you next time, but this time, he needs to know that he’s abandoned us.”
To formally initiate a leadership challenge, a would-be contender would need to be nominated by at least 20 per cent of Labour MPs, which would mean requiring 40 signatures – six more than the current membership of the Socialist Campaign Group.
If Sir Keir resigned, the move would automatically trigger a contest and MPs would only require nominations from 10 per cent – 20 – of their colleagues to stand.
During Ms Butler’s bid for the deputy leadership last year she billed herself as “the only candidate who has been in government”, stating: “Let me take us there again.” The 51-year-old MP for Brent Central, in north west London, served as a minister in the Cabinet Office during Gordon Brown’s premiership.
She generated controversy last year for praising Extinction Rebellion for ‘excellent work’ after they blocked the printworks of many of Britain’s major newspapers. In 2018, as part of a speech at Labour’s conference in Liverpool, she spoke approvingly of the Militant-dominated council which ran the city in the 1980s.