Analysis: After Unite's endorsement, Rebecca Long-Bailey’s rivals must sit up and take note

24 January 2020, 20:07

(left to right) Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer are all vying to be the next Labour leader
(left to right) Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer are all vying to be the next Labour leader. Picture: PA

By Ben Kentish

LBC's Westminster Correspondent Ben Kentish says Rebecca Long-Bailey's endorsement from Unite will cause the Labour leadership race to "ratchet up a gear."

Rebecca Long-Bailey securing the endorsement of the Unite trade union - the UK’s second biggest and Labour’s largest donor - was predictable but significant.

Its general secretary, Len McCluskey, is a staunch ally of Jeremy Corbyn and the union is among the most left-wing of Labour’s affiliated organisations.

It was always likely to back the leadership candidate most likely to continue Corbyn’s agenda.

More of a surprise was its decision to endorse Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, for deputy leader. He is highly unlikely to triumph in a contest widely expected to be won by Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary.

She is seen as loyal enough to Corbyn to have won the backing of many of his supporters, and so Unite’s decision to instead endorse Burgon - a more left-wing and, some would say, left-field candidate - will come as a disappointment to Team Rayner.

But back to the main race. Rebecca Long-Bailey now needs the support of just one more union or affiliated organisation to secure a place on the ballot that will be sent to Labour members next month - a threshold she is all but certain to reach.

With her place in the next round alongside Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy all but guaranteed, the leadership contest is likely to ratchet up a gear.

Long-Bailey will benefit from Unite’s significant resources being ploughed into her campaign and the union advising its members to back her.

There is no guarantee that they will do so, of course, but the endorsement will give her campaign a boost after a slow start.

In securing the support of both Unite and the Momentum campaign group, she has united the two big organisations on the left of the Labour Party.

While the two have their differences, it was this coalition that helped elect Jeremy Corbyn on two occasions. Long-Bailey’s rivals will not be underestimating its influence this time around.

Still, it is not all good news for the shadow business secretary.

Current polling suggests that Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, is ahead among Labour members, and he is doing a good job of talking up Corbyn’s policy platform while promising to make Labour electable again.

That will be an appealing offer to Labour members after the party’s fourth election defeat.

Long-Bailey’s rivals, meanwhile, are portraying her as simply a “Continuity Corbyn” candidate.

While her camp disputes this, their argument will not be helped by the fact that she has now won the backing of almost all of those around Corbyn himself.

If members decide that they want a change from the last four years, it could hinder her chances.

It is now looking highly likely that the next Labour leader will be either Starmer or Long-Bailey. Unite’s endorsement will boost the latter, even if it was always likely to come.

Will it be enough to help her gain ground on her rival? That will only become clear in the coming weeks.