Labour's grandees were locked in a furious battle of words yesterday as they took opposing sides over which of the Miliband brothers should be the party's next leader.
Peter Mandelson, Labour's veteran spin doctor, was the first to ignore the pretence that supporters of the rival camps are all good friends really to make personal attacks yesterday on Ed Miliband and two of his big-name backers – the ex-leader Lord Kinnock and his ex-deputy, Lord Hattersley.
This provoked a furious reply from Lord Kinnock who said: "Atavists like Peter Mandelson are indulging in the sort of factionalism that has inflicted such damage on our party in ancient and modern history. He should stop it now."
Lord Hattersley added: "What the party needs is a clean start. That requires admissions of mistakes made during the Blair years. Peter Mandelson doesn't want that to happen because many of those mistakes were down to him."
Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Lord Mandelson complained that candidates in the leadership campaign were "defining themselves against New Labour" and were therefore "slamming the door on millions of people in Britain".
He added: "David (Miliband) isn't saying that. Ed (Miliband) sometimes allows his rhetoric to run away with him and allows the impression to be created that rather than pivoting forwards from now he wants to pivot back to some pre-New Labour stage." Earlier, he told The Times newspaper that Lords Kinnock and Hattersley were men "of a certain age" who "want to hark back to a previous age".
His remarks were intended to persuade Labour Party members to vote for David Miliband when their ballot papers arrive by post in the next few days. But the shadow Foreign Secretary, who has been the front runner throughout the contest, appeared to be embarrassed yesterday by Lord Mandelson's unsolicited support.
"Party members, including me, are sick and tired of the old battles of the past being rerun," he said. "It's time to move on. That's why my campaign has unified people, from across the party. We all want the same thing: a forward-looking agenda, a break with the battles of the past and all our fire focused on the Coalition."
His sentiments were echoed by Andy Burnham, one of the outside candidates in the race. He said: "It is sad that senior Labour figures who are supporting the front runners are building this into a fight between Old and New Labour. Labour members are sick to the back teeth of it."
Although polls suggest that the contest is now between the Miliband brothers, the outsider Ed Balls will keep his campaign alive today with a speech in which he will call for £6bn to be invested in building 100,000 new affordable homes to ease the housing crisis and reduce unemployment.
Writing on the LabourList website, Mr Balls said: "The now daily episodes of the Miliband soap opera suit those who want to keep this a two-horse race, but do not do justice to the issues at stake in this election."