Why the NUM’s endorsement is a coup for Lisa Nandy

The second trade union nomination of the Labour leadership race puts the Wigan MP within touching distance of the final round. 

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Lisa Nandy has secured her first trade union nomination of the Labour leadership race from an ostensibly unlikely source: the National Union of Mineworkers. 

Though much diminished in membership since the days of Arthur Scargill, the NUM remains affiliated to the party and thus enjoys an outsized power under the rules of this year’s contest. It has chosen to wield it to Nandy’s benefit, with Chris Kitchen, its general secretary, endorsing her as the person “Labour needs to build the party and regain trust with the voters we've lost”.

Much of the immediate reaction to the nomination, however, has focused not on Nandy but a rival candidate: Rebecca Long-Bailey. The shadow business secretary’s detractors will tell you this is first and foremost a snub to her. 

That, however, says more about the place the NUM occupies in Labour’s collective imagination than it does the union that exists in 2020. When MPs think of the NUM, they tend to think of Ian Lavery, the Labour chairman, Corbyn loyalist and Long-Bailey supporter who succeeded Arthur Scargill as its national president. Yet its recent endorsements tell a different story: not only did it endorse Yvette Cooper in 2015, it did not declare at all in 2016: a clear and visible sign of its present day Corbynscepticism. No organisation which sat out the 2016 challenge to Corbyn is likely to back his designated successor.

Instead, the news is first and foremost a coup for Nandy. If, as Labour MPs expect, she is endorsed by the GMB, then she will have cleared the threshold of five per cent of affiliated members in one fell swoop. The NUM is only a fraction of its size, but, as a union nonetheless, would give her the second she requires. By this time next week, when the GMB makes its decision, Nandy could be closer than any other candidate to reaching the final round – with only one more affiliate of any size to secure.

Patrick Maguire was political correspondent at the New Statesman.

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