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The GMB endorses Owen Smith. What does it mean?

Owen Smith's campaign has received an unexpected boost.

In a contest devoid of shocks, the GMB’s endorsement of Owen Smith is the closest to a surprise in a Labour leadership race that otherwise looks like a procession for Jeremy Corbyn.

Why does it matter? Because unlike Usdaw, Community and the Musicians’ Union (which endorsed Smith) or the TSSA, Aslef or Unite (which have endorsed Corbyn) they did so following a “consultative ballot” of members, and the result is a 20-point victory for Owen Smith, with 60 to 40 per cent.

For Labour’s Corbynsceptics, who have faced a series of setbacks, it represents a shot in the arm. If – and it’s a big “if” – GMB affiliates turn out in large numbers, then that would easily overwhelm Corbyn’s lead among ordinary party members. It will also bolster the argument made by Smith’s campaign that the balance of £25 supporters is far less pro-Corbyn than is commonly supposed.

It also represents an endorsement of the series of fiercely-contended polls of trade union members, commissioned by Ian Warren, who worked for Labour under Ed Miliband, showed support for Corbyn slumping among trade unionists. Trade union affiliates can vote without a fee in the Labour leadership race, representing a big source of pro-Smith votes, or at least the theory runs.

Is the spring in the Corbynsceptic step justified? Well, very few trade union affiliates voted in the last leadership election, despite a well-funded effort by Organise Consulting to sign up trade unionists on behalf of Unite. There is little evidence that pattern will be broken this time – so anyone hoping for an inrush of pro-Smith trade unionists is likely to be disappointed. The sole YouGov poll of the race so far showed Corbyn winning by 20 points among Labour members, and that pattern is broadly supported by his success in securing nominations from constituency Labour parties. It looks unlikely that enough trade unionists will vote to overcome Corbyn’s advantages among members.

It’s also worth noting that as ever, there are complaints about process. In Labour politics – small and large “L” alike – the hand that controls the maillist tends to control the world. It may be that the GMB’s members vote very differently when ballots are issues.

What is likely to be more important is that it will provide Tim Roache, the GMB’s General Secretary and a Corbynsceptic himself, the cover to be more critical of Jeremy Corbyn over the coming months, and allow the GMB’s representatives on the NEC to vote against Corbyn more freely, if – as still looks likely – he is re-elected. Among other things, that makes Tom Watson’s plan to seek a rule change to restore Labour’s electoral college look more likely to succeed, and Team Corbyn’s hopes of removing Iain McNicol will be thrown into doubt.

So while it feels unlikely that GMB’s endorsement will change the outcome of the battle, it may represent a decisive shift in the longer struggle for supremacy. 

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

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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