David Miliband has admitted his campaign for the Labour leadership received a "wake-up call" after a poll showed his brother, Ed, had moved into a narrow lead.
The survey set the scene for a photo-finish between the brothers when the result is declared in 12 days' time at the start of the Labour conference. The shadow Foreign Secretary remains the bookmakers' favourite to succeed Gordon Brown but the YouGov survey for The Sunday Times found that the race is agonisingly close as the candidates embark on their last full week of campaigning.
It concluded that David Miliband had a narrow lead on first-preference votes. But once the second choices of the other candidates – Andy Burnham, Ed Balls and Diane Abbott – were eliminated Ed Miliband squeaked home with 51 per cent support. Both of the Milibands' campaign teams are likely now to concentrate on wooing these second-preference voters.
In a BBC interview yesterday, David Miliband insisted: "I think it is good that there's a wake-up call for this election, because too many people have thought that they can get a leader who can unite the party, from Dennis Skinner to Alistair Darling, get a leader who the Tories fear, get a leader who's set out a forward agenda, but not have to vote for him."
But Ed Miliband claimed he was achieving the momentum to win the leadership battle. He said Labour was "making a judgment about the best person to beat David Cameron and I think they are turning to me". He told Sky News: "My sense is that it's moving towards me in every section of the electoral college."
Just two leadership hustings remain. The candidates will address the TUC conference this evening and make their final pitch to party members in a BBC1 Question Time debate on Thursday. The contest has acquired a personal edge in recent weeks despite instructions by both brothers not to indulge in mud-slinging. David Miliband denied a report that members of his team had nicknamed his brother "Forrest Gump", after the simpleton character played by Tom Hanks in the film.
"No one on my campaign has ever said that. This is a campaign we have run resolutely on a positive basis," he said.