Allies of Ed Miliband accused Britain’s biggest trade union of trying to keep modernisers off the ballot paper in the Labour leadership election amid fears that it could be limited to a two-horse race between Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.

The bitter dispute between senior Labour figures and Unite intensified as it was claimed that the union was putting pressure on Labour MPs not to nominate modernisers Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh and Tristram Hunt in the election to choose Mr Miliband’s successor.

A candidate needs to be nominated by 35 MPs – 15 per cent of the 232 elected this month. Mr Burnham and Ms Cooper, who are both expected to win the backing of some union leaders, are confident of clearing the hurdle and there is speculation they have already had more than 100 nominations between them.

There are fears that modernisers, who are unlikely to be endorsed by any union bosses, could be squeezed out, limiting the choice in the “one member, one vote” ballot in September of Labour members, registered supporters and union members who become “affiliated supporters”.

Allies of Ms Kendall insisted she would “get the numbers” but condemned attempts to limit the field. “There are people who want to close this down to make it a coronation for Andy Burnham,” one of Ms Kendall’s supporters said. “It won’t wash with the public.”

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