Len McCluskey's challenger Gerard Coyne has been suspended from Unite. Getty Images.
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Len McCluskey's rival for Unite general secretary, Gerard Coyne, suspended

Len McCluskey's challenger suspended from his post as West Midlands regional secretary ahead of election result. 

On the day that counting began in the Unite general secretary election, Gerard Coyne, Len McCluskey's challenger, has been suspended from his post. Coyne, who was West Midlands regional secretary, was given no reason for the action. Early returns are said by sources to show the "old right" candidate running ahead of the pro-Corbyn McCluskey by 46 points to 44. As the country's biggest trade union, with 1.4 million members, and Labour's biggest donor, control of Unite is crucial to the party's internal dynamics. 

Last year, Coyne was subject to disciplinary action after addressing a gathering organised by the anti-Corbyn Labour for the Common Good group. He was told that his speech to MPs including Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt was inappropriate "given the sensitivity within the Labour Party at the moment with the constant attacks on the leadership." 

McCluskey, a former Militant supporter, appeared to have a comfortable lead over Coyne after being nominated by 1,185 Unite branches to his rival's 187. But Coyne's team maintained that he  would win, recalling that in the 2002 Amicus election (the union which merged with the TGWU to form Unite), Derek Simpson won despite receiving 93 nominations to Ken Jackson's 352. "Len McCluskey is a machine politician, elected by one in ten Unite members on a low turnout," a Coyne spokesman said then. "Full-time Unite officials were under heavy pressure during the nomination period to deliver for McCluskey.

"Gerard Coyne is appealing to the mass of Unite members who are not part of the McCluskey machine. He is very pleased to have received nominations from every region of the UK, despite the machine, and he will win."

Coyne has sought to appeal to members alienated by Corbyn's stances on stances on defence, fracking and pharmaceuticals (industries where Unite is heavily represented). His team have long hoped to defeat McCluskey by increasing turnout (which stood at just 15.2 per cent in 2013) beyond the union's left-wing core. But though just 14 per cent of Unite members are said to have voted, Coyne supporters are hopeful of victory. "It's the Corbyn effect," a Labour aide said of McCluskey's potential defeat. The election result is due to be announced on 28 April. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.