Jeremy Corbyn may quit as leader before Labour fights the next general election, the party’s new campaign manager has admitted.
Ian Lavery said Labour had “plenty” of potential leaders waiting in the wings should Mr Corbyn choose to stand down “of his own volition” if he decides “it’s not for him” in 2020.
It came as another Labour shadow minister claimed leaked polling on possible replacements for Mr Corbyn was intended to improve Labour’s messaging in the north of England ahead of two crucial by-elections.
Mr Lavery said he was “pretty confident” Labour could hold its seats in the Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central by-elections, but described the possibility of losing only as a potential “hiccup”.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics programme: “There’s plenty of leaders to pick from if and when Jeremy decides, of his own volition, that it’s not for him at the election. That isn’t the case at this point in time.”
It came as the deputy leader Tom Watson warned Mr Corbyn he “must improve” the party’s popularity ratings, which has left Labour 15 per cent behind in the polls.
Asked about Labour’s chances in the upcoming elections, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “I don’t know whether we’re going to win these by-elections or not but the campaign team on the ground are running a good campaign.”
Labour has reportedly carried out polling with experts BMG as part of secret “succession planning”, which found Mr Corbyn is the least popular of all current party leaders, the Sunday Times reported.
Angela Rayner and Rebecca Long-Bailey, who are being tipped to run as leadership candidates, have also reportedly been assessed for popularity.
However, Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, insisted the polls were not “succession planning” but “about the north”.
She added: “People were taking focus groups in different parts of the country to look at which voices go down best with the Labour message”.
The admission suggests the party is aware of fears that it is losing ground to Ukip with voters outside of London and the south-east, ahead of the two by-elections.
Mr Lavery said polling on shadow cabinet members was not “uncommon”.
Asked about national polls which show Labour trailing the Conservatives Mr Watson told the BBC: “He has to explain those (polls). He has to improve on them – he’s well aware of that. It’s not for me to judge him on a TV show like this. It’s for him to make that decision.
“I talk to him every day about a whole range of issues. I talk to him about what I think we need to do to win a general election.
“I talk to him about issues I think Labour needs to address if we are going to address that poll gap.”
Mr Watson also claimed Labour has only got its leader sorted “for this parliament” suggesting a leadership battle could commence before the general election in 2020.