Barry Gardiner has confirmed he is considering entering the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and will make a final decision in the next “24 hours”. 

It comes as Keir Starmer, now widely considered the frontrunner in the contest, received the backing of one of the UK’s biggest trade and nominations from 41 Labour MPs – 24 ahead of his nearest rival, Rebecca Long Bailey.

A late arrival into the race from Mr Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary and ally of the current Labour leader, would likely damage the efforts of Ms Long Bailey, who has tried to position herself as the standard bearer for the left of the party.

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Mr Gardiner, the MP for Brent North since 1997, is currently in Abu Dhabi and will only have until 2.30pm on Monday to secure the nominations of at least 22 MPs and MEPs to pass through to the second round of the contest. 

Asked about his leadership ambitions, he told The Independent: “This time it is not speculation. I am considering. Will make a decision in the next 24 hours”.  

A source close to the shadow cabinet minister also told Huff Post: “Barry recognises the challenges the party faces over the next five years and believes he has the broad base of support, experience and loyalty to the party to win the race and take the fight to the Tories.” 

Earlier reports had suggested the influential general secretary of Unite union, Len McCluskey, had approached Mr Gardiner about a possible leadership bid amid concerns over Ms Long Bailey’s ability to win the contest.

But on Twitter, Mr McCluskey said: “I have just spoken to Barry Gardiner who is in Abu Dhabi. Barry is surprised as I am by this… We’re both clear that fake news and tricks like this will not be allowed to undermine any candidate’s campaign.”

He added: “I repeat what I’ve been saying for weeks. There will be no announcement from Unite until our EC meets the candidates on 24 Jan. Claims to the contrary should be dismissed as fake news.”

The possible bid follows Sir Keir securing the major endorsement of the Unison union – representing more than 1.4m workers – which had backed Mr Corbyn for leader of the party at the 2015 and 2016 contests. 

Dave Prentis, the Unison general secretary, said: “This is a pivotal time for Labour. We believe – if elected by the membership – Keir Starmer would be a leader to bring the party together and win back the trust of the thousands of voters who deserted Labour last month.”

He added: “Keir has a clear vision to get Labour back to the winning ways of the past. He is best placed to take on Boris Johnson, hold his government to account and ensure Labour can return to power and, once more, change working people’s lives for the better.”

Under Labour’s rules, leadership hopefuls must win the backing of 10 per cent of MPs and MEPs to get on to the ballot paper. They then must secure the support of five per cent of constituency parties and affiliated groups, including two trade unions.

Other contenders vying for the top job are shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, shadow treasury minister Clive Lewis and backbenchers Jess Phillips and Lisa Nandy

Addressing concerns about her own leadership bid, Ms Thornberry, who has managed to secure just three official nominations so far, said: “Well, we’ve got a few more days to go. 

“I have a number of people who have pledged to support me. I am out there making the argument, let's see what happens.”

Citing the Iranian crisis, she continued: "Current events and the fires in Australia do tend to show how the job of the leader of the Labour Party - and indeed the job of Labour prime minister - is likely to be framed.

"We need somebody who has experience, as I have had over the last three or four years, of looking in detail at the security of Britain and our relationships with the rest of the world.

"It would be good to have someone with that experience on the stage in the mix in a debate about who should be leader of the Labour Party."

Mr Lewis, who appears unlikely to secure the required number of MPs’ nominations before Monday, also told The National that he would not oppose a second Scottish independence referendum. 

“It is not for me as an English MP for an English constituency, to dictate to Scotland what that form of government should be,” he said. “There should be no question of Labour opposing a second independence referendum if there is a mandate to hold one.”

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