Rebecca Long-Bailey to compete with Keir Starmer for TSSA Labour leadership nomination

The Corbynite transport union will ballot its members on whether to support Keir Starmer or Long-Bailey, in a blow to the latter.

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Good news for Rebecca Long-Bailey: the shadow business secretary is one step closer to securing her first affiliate nomination of the Labour leadership race. Bad news for Rebecca Long-Bailey: she has failed to win outright the nomination of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s earliest trade union backers.

Instead, the rail union’s executive has resolved to ballot its members with a choice of two candidates: Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer. It is the third affiliate this week whose endorsement Long-Bailey has failed to secure: the National Union of Mineworkers went for Lisa Nandy on Tuesday, while the Socialist Environment and Resources Association backed Starmer yesterday

The NUM’s decision was widely written up as a snub to Long-Bailey, despite the fact it did not nominate Corbyn either in 2015, when it endorsed Yvette Cooper, and 2016, when it did not declare at all. The TSSA’s decision will generate less coverage, despite being inflicting the blow the NUM didn’t. 

Why? If there is one union that can be said to have been Corbynite before the term enjoyed widespread use, it is the TSSA: it provided office space for both of Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, as well as to Momentum in its infancy. While Manuel Cortes, its Remainer general secretary, has disagreed with the leadership's line on Brexit, it has otherwise been a reliable supporter of Corbyn internally. 

Sources close to Long-Bailey say they had anticipated today's decision  which one trade unionist describes as a “massive fudge” – but it nonetheless falls short of the straight nomination they will have surely hoped for. And though a clear path to the ballot via the other ostensibly Corbynite unions would appear to remain – Unite, the CWU, the BFAWU, the FBU and Aslef - it is now narrower than most would have predicted.

That raises an uncomfortable question for Long-Bailey: might the other smaller unions be in play too? Sources across the union movement feel a consensus forming among their leaders – that Starmer is best-placed to win a general election and is worth endorsing on the basis of that strength alone. As one source told me of their outwardly Corbynite general secretary earlier this week: “They're fed up of losing. So don't be surprised if we go for Keir.”

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.