Sir Keir Starmer has won the backing of the UK’s largest trade union, Unison, to become the next Labour leader.
Unison, which has 1.3 million members, said the shadow Brexit secretary was best placed of the candidates to unite the party and regain public trust.
Unite, Labour’s largest financial backer, will decide later this month who to back in the contest.
Sir Keir has also become the first to secure enough nominations from MPs and MEPs to get on the ballot paper.
By Wednesday morning, the Holborn and St Pancras MP had secured the backing of 23 colleagues – passing the minimum of 22 required.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey is his closest competitor, followed by Jess Phillips. Nominations close on 13 January and the winner will be announced on 4 April.
Unison’s endorsement is a major boost for Sir Keir’s campaign. Announcing its decision, the union said it believed the former director of public prosecutions was capable of taking Labour back into government.
General Secretary Dave Prentis said working people depended on Labour being in power to change their lives.
“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 said.
“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.”
The union, which represents workers across the NHS, schools and other public services, backed Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and 2016.
Sir Keir said he was “honoured” to receive the union’s backing and, if he was elected, he would stand “side-by-side” with the trade union movement to take the fight to the Conservatives.
It caps a good day for the shadow Brexit secretary, whose parliamentary backers include two newly-announced members of Labour’s front bench – shadow culture secretary Tracy Brabin and shadow Brexit minister Thangam Debbonaire.
Mrs Long Bailey’s backers include deputy candidate Angela Rayner, while Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips has the support of, among others, Wes Streeting – an outspoken critic of Mr Corbyn over his handling of anti-Semitism allegations in the party.
By Wednesday morning, Wigan MP Lisa Nandy had two nominations and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has one. However, shadow Treasury minister Clive Lewis was yet to receive the official backing of any of his colleagues.
Earlier, Mr Lewis rated Mr Corbyn “six out of 10” as leader of the Labour Party.
Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, he criticised the outgoing leader for making mistakes on Brexit and dealing with anti-Semitism.
“But some things he got right,” Mr Lewis added, “so in many ways he’s renewed our party.”
The comments follow those of Mrs Long Bailey, who rated Mr Corbyn 10 out of 10 for his performance as leader, despite Labour’s electoral defeat.
Mr Corbyn said on Tuesday he would not endorse any of the candidates and “won’t be saying who I’ll be voting for”.
Deputy leadership race
In the race to become Labour’s next deputy leader, shadow education secretary Ms Rayner is leading the way with 16 nominations.
Ian Murray, Scotland’s only remaining Labour MP, has six declared backers so far while shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon has five.
Shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler has three nominations while Tooting MP Rosena Allin-Khan has two. The remaining candidate, Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood, has yet to receive any.
Earlier on Wednesday, the six deputy contenders held a hustings in Parliament.
Mr Murray told MPs he was running “because of my track record in beating the odds”, saying: “I shouldn’t be here. People like me from the housing estate where I was born and brought up in a single parent family don’t become MPs. But I am.
“And I shouldn’t be here because I wasn’t supposed to win my marginal seat. But I did, by building a coalition of support.”
He said Labour was at “a dangerous crossroads”, adding: “The choice is whether we become a credible alternative government or a party of perpetual opposition. I choose the former.”