Members of the ruling National Executive Committee have shortlisted former acting general secretary Chris Lennie, who has Mr Miliband’s support, and GMB official Iain McNicol for the key post.
The narrowness of the shortlist has angered some members of the NEC who wanted to see a broader choice from about half-a-dozen who put their names forward.
One insider said: “The focus has been on getting the candidate that Ed wanted, not on presenting the NEC with others who might beat him.
”It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for the choice to be so limited – it happened last time out. Historically, the NEC has chosen the winning candidate by exhaustive ballot, a process which will not be required when it makes a decision in July.Mr McNichol was an early favourite in the opening lists of the race, winning strong backing from big unions.
Mr Lennie, who has extensive experience of the party machinery, is currently responsible for party fund-raising.They were expected to face a challenge from labour movement heavyweight Joe Irvin, who has worked for almost 18 years in the trade union movement as well as for John Prescott and Gordon Brown. He was among those who failed to make the final list decided by a small group of officers and three NEC members, MPs Tom Watson and Ellie Reeves, and councillor Dave Sparks.