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20 January 2020

Is Rebecca Long-Bailey one step closer to Unite’s nomination?

United Left, the biggest bloc on the trade union’s ruling executive, has endorsed the shadow business secretary for the Labour leadership.  

By Patrick Maguire

Who will Unite, Labour’s biggest donor and the UK’s second-largest trade union, nominate in the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn? The answer to that question – one of the most consequential of the party’s leadership election – won’t be known until Friday, when the union’s executive meets to determine its endorsement. But one key faction has already made its call.

United Left, which won a majority of seats on the 63-strong Unite executive at the last round of internal elections in 2017, yesterday endorsed Rebecca Long-Bailey (as well as nominating shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon for deputy leader). While much has been made of what union general secretary Len McCluskey wants from this leadership election – and, indeed, whether his candidate of choice is Long-Bailey – he is not omnipotent and cannot simply bend the executive to his will should they diverge. 

That Unite’s biggest bloc has pre-empted Friday’s conclave with an endorsement of its own suggests that even if McCluskey desires a different outcome – and he has studiously avoided a commitment in either direction so far – it might well be impossible to achieve. 

While the nomination is by no means a certainty, Long-Bailey and Burgon could all but guaranteed a place on the final ballot: having both been nominated by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union last week, the backing of another trade union and another affiliate is all they require. With Unite large enough to meet the 5 per cent affiliate membership threshold by itself, they will be hoping that its left wins the day – and that smaller, more radical unions continue to prioritise their factional interests.

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