Rick Perry has support of 29 per cent of Republicans

Rick Perry, who hopes to be the GOP's 2012 presidential candidate, has the support of a third of Rep

Rick Perry, US Presidential hopeful and current Governor of Texas, has the support of 29 per cent of Republican primary voters, according to a new Rasmussen poll.

Michele Bachmann, who is also hoping to challenge Obama for the presidency in 2012, has the support of only 13 per cent of the 1,000 Republicans surveyed. 18 per cent said they would vote for Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts. Despite coming close behind Bachmann on Saturday's straw poll, Texas Congressman Ron Paul is trailing on nine per cent. Hermann Cain is at six per cent, Newt Gingrich - former House Speaker - is at five per cent, and Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman are both at one per cent. Thaddeus McCotter polled zero per cent, and 16 per cent were undecided.

Perry is currently campaigning in Iowa, where a straw poll on Saturday indicated that Michele Bachmann had the support of 30 per cent of GOP voters. Perry's support is disproportionately high amongst Tea Party supporters, of whom 39 per cent say they would vote for him. However, amongst non Tea Party supporters, Romney is leading over Perry by a small margin, and his overall rating is higher than that of both Bachmann and Perry, at 77 per cent.

President Obama himself is currently on a three-day tour of Midwestern states, including Iowa, whose votes he will need if he is to remain in office after the 2012 election. The first Republican primary vote will be held in Iowa in February next year.

US political commentator Professor Dan Drezner has said that "Perry vs. Obama would be the largest policy gap between nominees since... Reagan-Mondale?"

Alex Massie, writing for the Spectator, has cast doubt on whether Perry's Federalist outlook "can survive the horrors of a national campaign", due to his reactionary views on issues such as gay rights and the environment. The Huffington Post has also suggested that Perry is disliked in his hometown, where he is seen as glib and superficial, having "turned his back on Haskell" (the county from which he hails).

Although many commentators believe Obama will face stiff competition in 2012, there is disagreement as to whether Perry will prove a formidable opponent. His extreme views alienate many moderates, even if his support from the Tea Party ensures he makes many headlines, adding to a perhaps artificial sense of his popularity. The Rasmussen poll does suggest that Perry is a divisive figure: 38 per cent of voters hold a "very favourable" opinion of him, against 32 per cent for Bachmann and 21 per cent for Romney, but Romney's overall favourable rating is higher.

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What are Len McCluskey's chances of re-election at Unite?

The union boss's re-election bid will have far-reaching consequences for the Labour party. 

Len McCluskey has stepped down early as general secretary of Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, in order to stand again for a third term. The contest has potentially far-reaching consequences for the Labour party. McCluskey was elected in 2013 to serve a five-year term; but his supporters hope that the move will allow him to stay in post until the next general election. 

Unite, as well as being Britain’s biggest trade union, is the largest affiliate to the Labour party. That makes it a power player in the party’s internal politics, although their reach and influence is often overstated. It is the GMB, a trade union from the party’s centre, which has dominated parliamentary selections so far in this parliament. “It’s easier for people who’ve met Lisa Johnson [the GMB’s political officer in charge of selection] once in the pub to get selected than it is for Len to get his favourites in,” jokes one trade union official.

That McCluskey is going now and not in 2018 is itself the result of events beyond his control. Assistant general secretary Steve Turner, long spoken of as McCluskey’s chosen successor, is judged not to have  the credibility with Unite’s left flank to win. McCluskey, who is 66, had been trying to overturn a rule barring him from standing again in 2018 due to his age. However, that plan has been mothballed after it became apparent that he does not have the necessary votes among the executive committee.

McCluskey has been dogged by the widespread perception – one that Unite’s press officers strongly deny – that his preference in the 2015 Labour leadership election was Andy Burnham, not Jeremy Corbyn. (In the end, Unite backed Corbyn.)  That matters because in 2013, McCluskey’s strongest opposition came from the left, in the shape of Jerry Hicks, a member of the Respect party who has tried for the top job three times. Since then, McCluskey has been a vocal supporter of Corbyn’s leadership and Unite underwrote much of the Islington MP's second leadership bid. But the perception that he is a fairweather friend of the Corbyn project still lingers in some circles.

However, McCluskey is unlikely to face a well-organised challenge from the left, which would potentially be fatal. 

Who might face him? Hicks is believed to be highly unlikely to mount a fourth bid for the job, while Sharon Graham, the director of organising, is “ambitious but will sit this one out”, say insiders. It is expected that someone from Unite Scotland will likely make a bid. The great hope for Labour’s Corbynsceptics is Gerard Coyne, the regional secretary in the west Midlands. Allies of McCluskey hoped he could be bought off with a parliamentary seat, but he is now all-but-certain to challenge McCluskey for the post.

McCluskey is well-prepared for his bid. Jennie Formby, a close aide and former political director, now serves as regional secretary in the South-East, in preparation for the crucial task of getting the vote out for her boss. He starts as the frontrunner, albeit a vulnerable one. Coyne, for his part, has the advantage of coming from the West Midlands, where the old Labour right – once the backbone of Amicus and its predecessor unions, now merged into Unite – is still strong and relatively well-organised.

But here's the question. Has McCluskey's friendliness with the Corbynite left alienated his members with high-paying industrial jobs, who are not enamoured with the current Labour leader? McCluskey’s allies hope that he has done enough in defending Labour’s policy commitment to Trident to offset his support for Corbyn, who is opposed to the nuclear deterrent. His opponents believe they can successfully link him to the Labour leadership’s opposition to fracking, pharmaceuticals and defence, all of which are industries whose members are represented by Unite.

This election matters within the Labour party because Unite has multiples votes on its ruling national executive committee, and on the conference floor. It is also keen to put forward Unite-backed parliamentary candidates. So whether Len McCluskey serves another term could change the direction of British politics. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.