Labour leadership: Candidates seek union backing in next phase of contest

Lisa NandyImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ms Nandy has won the backing of the National Union of Mineworkers

Labour leadership candidates are seeking the backing of unions and local parties as the next stage of the contest gets under way.

The five candidates have to get the support of 5% of local parties or at least three affiliates – two of which must be unions – by 14 February to make it on to the final ballot.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said it would be backing Lisa Nandy.

The general secretary said the Wigan MP could take the party back into power.

Chris Kitchen said she was able to “regain the trust of the voters we’ve lost”.

The UK’s largest union, Unison, has already thrown its weight behind Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary.

Other unions, such as Unite and the GMB, have yet to make up their minds.

Jeremy Corbyn’s successor as Labour leader will be announced on 4 April. He is stepping down after Labour’s defeat in December’s general election, its fourth election defeat in a row.

In the first phase of the contest, Sir Keir won the backing of most MPs and MEPs, well ahead of Rebecca Long Bailey, Ms Nandy, Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry. Clive Lewis pulled out after failing to secure enough support.

The race is now on for the candidates to win enough nominations from constituency parties, trade unions and other bodies affiliated to Labour to stay in the contest.

The NUM said it was backing Ms Nandy because “she represents a coalfield community and has stood with us in our fights for justice and regeneration”.

The union, whose membership has shrunk considerably since its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, said it was “confident she is the leader who can take Labour back into government once again”.

‘Real change’

Several former mining towns which were rock-solid Labour areas for decades backed the Conservatives in the election, with many voters saying they felt disconnected from Labour over Brexit and other issues.

Ms Nandy said successive governments had failed to help such areas build new futures for themselves, with the preponderance of short-time insecure work eroding the social fabric of tight-knit communities.

“Former coalfields and towns are crying out for real change,” she said.

“Some of these areas are part of the famous red wall that fell in the last election. I get it. If Labour wants to be part of making that change happen, we have to go back out into our communities and fight for it.”

If elected leader, she said she would continue to campaign for former miners to get a “fair deal” in retirement and for the billions which she said had been “robbed” from British Coal’s pension scheme by the government to be re-paid.

When the final leadership ballot opens on 21 February, members of the Labour Party, affiliated trades unions (if they opt in), and socialist societies such as the Fabians, all get one vote each.

Those who join the party or become affiliated supporters before 20 January will be eligible to vote. Registered supporters – who are not full party members – can also take part if they pay £25 by the 16 January deadline.

Where will union votes go?

To get on to the ballot, the five candidates must have the support either of at least two trade unions and one ‘affliate’ – that is at least one of about 20 socialist societies such as the Labour Housing Group, the Jewish Labour Movement or the Socialist Educational Association, or the backing of 33 local parties.

Not all five candidates are likely to get union backing.

Keir Starmer got an early boost when the UK’s biggest union, Unison, declared their support. He is likely to get the second required trade union – possibly Community, or the shopworkers union Usdaw, or indeed both.

While Lisa Nandy has won the backing of the now rather emaciated NUM, there is a further barrier to be overcome.

The unions and affiliates which nominate must represent 5% of the affiliated membership. In practice, this means she needs also to get a much, much bigger union on side.

The GMB is such a union. It nominated the challenger to Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Smith, in 2016 and is unlikely to back Rebecca Long Bailey, who is seen as too close to the current leadership.

But it’s not clear if they’ll opt for Nandy or Starmer and its executive will hear from all of the candidates before making a choice next week.

But Nandy’s supporters are hopeful the GMB, with many public service workers amongst the membership, will choose a woman who represents a northern English seat.

The executive of the vast Unite union will make its decision on 24 January. The expectation is that, given its left-wing leadership, it will opt for Long Bailey. But several sources are suggesting support for Nandy shouldn’t be completely ruled out.

So far, then, it looks as though three candidates could make the membership ballot via the union route.

That would leave Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry fighting a longer battle to get the backing of local parties – probably in the face of resistance from the left-wing grassroots group, Momentum.

This will require a high degree of local organisation and sufficient funding to drum up support of the 33 local parties needed, amongst an overall membership of about half a million.

They have until Valentine’s Day to do so.

It’s not clear yet if they’ll love the result – or if their campaigns will end in heartbreak.


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