Keir Starmer has emerged as early frontrunner in the race for the Labour leadership, in a poll of members which countered assumptions that they will pick a “continuity Corbyn” candidate from the party’s left wing.

The shadow Brexit secretary led the field among potential contenders, favoured by 31 per cent of members in the poll by YouGov for the Party Members Project.

And the survey suggested that he would comfortably win a final run-off with shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey, taking 61 per cent of the vote.

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The poll of 1,059 Labour party members between 20 and 30 December put Sir Keir on 31 per cent for first choice votes, with 20 per cent backing Ms Long Bailey. Backbencher Jess Phillips received 11 per cent, while Clive Lewis and Yvette Cooper were the first choice for 7 per cent, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry was picked by 6 per cent and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy by 5 per cent.

Sir Keir, who piloted Labour through its tortuous progress towards backing a second referendum on Brexit, has yet to announce his candidacy in the race to succeed Mr Corbyn, due to begin formally next week.

Only Mr Lewis and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry have so far thrown their hats into the ring.

The poll contradicts suggestions that the party might opt for a left-wing leader from outside London, not associated with the anti-Brexit cause, in order to appeal to the Leave-voting northern and midlands seats lost to Conservatives in last month’s election.

Sir Keir, a centrist who represents Holborn and St Pancras in central London, came top among members from all areas of Britain, age groups and social charges.

But fellow centrist Neil Coyle, MP for London seat Bermondsey and Old Southwark, said Starmer was not the right candidate.

“I won’t be backing Keir,” Mr Coyle told Sky News. “He was part of the shadow cabinet that led us to a disastrous election result.”

Starmer is not the right leader to win back traditional Labour voters in the seats it lost in December, said Mr Coyle.

“If we say to those voters ‘Do you want another white bloke from Islington?’ they are probably going to come back with the same answer as they have just given us in the last election,” he said.

The finding suggests that support for Ms Long Bailey among the inner circle around Mr Corbyn and the left-leaning Momentum group may not be enough to make her the party’s first female leader.

Prof Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London, who jointly ran the poll with the University of Sussex, told The Guardian: “This is not shaping up to be a 2015-style Labour leadership contest.

“Unless potential candidates drop out before the start of voting, it may take a few rounds to decide the winner this time around.

“But it doesn’t look at the moment as if the winner will come from the left of the party. Right now anyway, Keir Starmer looks to be heading for a fairly emphatic victory.”

Senior figures on the left are backing shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey (Getty)

He added: “It certainly doesn’t look as if Labour’s members are necessarily persuaded that it’s time the party had a female leader. They seem more interested in picking the best person for the job, irrespective of gender.”

Brexit may affect the result as Long Bailey is ranked first by 19 per cent of members who voted Remain but 31 per cent of Leave voters. Starmer is ranked first by 17 per cent of Leavers but 34 per cent of Remainers. Most members are Remainers.

Candidates for the Labour leadership will require nominations from 10 per cent of the party’s MPs and MEPs – currently 22 – as well as either five per cent of constituency parties or three affiliated groups such as trade unions.

Voting takes place on a one-person, one-vote basis among party members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. Voters rank candidates in order of preference, with votes redistributed as the least-popular contender is eliminated in a series of rounds until one has more than 50 per cent of ballots.

The YouGov poll does not include trade union members and registered supporters, both groups which heavily backed Corbyn for leader in 2015 and 2016 and might be expected to favour a candidate fro the left of the party this time around.

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