The contest to succeed Ed Miliband as Labour leader has been thrown wide open after Chuka Umunna, the poster boy of party modernisers, dramatically pulled out of the race.
Mr Umunna said he had simply not anticipated the “level of pressure” that he would be under as a leadership candidate and the impact it would have on his family.
Aides categorically denied his decision had been triggered by newspaper investigations into his personal life but added Mr Umunna had concluded he was “not ready” for the level of constant media attention that would come if he were to be elected.
Mr Umunna’s decision clears the way for fellow moderniser Tristram Hunt to enter the race. The Shadow Education Secretary is yet to officially declare but is now almost certain to stand.
Video: Umunna's initial leadership announcement
He said that Labour must use the leadership election to “ask some very profound questions” about the future of the party.
“I am continuing to listen to colleagues on their views on how we rebuild the Labour Party to get us back into government,” he said. “I will tomorrow set out my analysis on how we begin to understand what went so wrong and why.”
Mr Umunna’s decision leaves Mr Hunt along with Liz Kendall, the Shadow Care Minister, and Mary Creagh, the shadow international development secretary, as the leading ‘Blairite’ contenders for the leadership.
They will go up against Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, both of whom are expected to get support from the left of the party and will win the backing of the unions. It is unclear who, if anyone, Mr Umunna will decide to support.
Who will be the next Labour leader?
Who will be the next Labour leader?
1/7 Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham has promised to restore the party's "emotional connection with millions of people," if elected
2/7 Mary Creagh
Mary Creagh has called on her party to win back “Middle England”
3/7 Liz Kendall
Shadow health minister Liz Kendall is seen as a Blairite
4/7 Yvette Cooper
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper became the fourth person to join the Labour leadership race
5/7 Tristram Hunt
Tristram Hunt, the shadow Education Secretary, has said he will not run for the Labour leadership as he had not gathered the required nominations of 35 MPs. He has instead endorsed the moderniser Liz Kendall.
6/7 Dan Jarvis
One of the favourites to succeed Ed Miliband as Labour leader – ex-Army paratrooper Dan Jarvis – has ruled himself out, saying he won't do it because of his children
7/7 Chuka Umunna
Chuka Umunna dropped out of the Labour leadership contest just three days after he announced he was in the running
Mr Umunna said he hoped to remain a member of the shadow cabinet under a new leader and apologised to those who had supported his bid. But said he had always harboured doubts about whether he was ready to step up.
“I know this will come as a surprise to many but I had always wondered whether it was all too soon for me to launch this leadership bid, I fear it was,” he wrote.
“Most importantly, I continued to have very real concerns and worry about this bid’s impact on those close to me. I am used to a level of attention which is part and parcel of the job. However, since the night of our defeat last week, I have been subject to the added level of pressure that comes with being a leadership candidate.
“I have not found it to be a comfortable experience. One can imagine what running for leader can be like, understand its demands and the attention but nothing compares to actually doing it and the impact on the rest of one’s life.”
Mr Umunna’s former rivals for the leadership paid tribute to him and said they hoped he would continue in front line politics. Ms Creagh said the “huge pressures” placed on modern politicians could be tough on their families and friends.
“I have huge respect and genuine affection for Chuka,” she said. “He is a big beast, he has a huge amount to offer his party and his country and this is a decision that I am sure he has not taken lightly. But Chuka’s decision is the one that he has made and we need to look forward and move forward.”
Ms Cooper added that it was a “real shame Chuka Umunna has had to take this decision and has had pressure put on friends/family. [He is a] great guy with a strong future role”.