Keir Starmer, clearly the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, has just secured the backing of trade union Unison. This is the first union endorsement in the contest and is a huge boost to a campaign that is already going very well. Unison was among Jeremy Corbyn’s backers in the 2016 contest, and has the potential to deliver more votes than the other affiliated trade unions.
Starmer is also steaming ahead with nominations from MPs and MEPs, with 23 members publicly backing him. Far behind him in second place is Rebecca Long Bailey, with seven nominations currently.
A number of MPs and activists who I have spoken to in recent days have said that they are backing Starmer largely because they think he is the most likely to win the contest and beat Long Bailey, who is the Momentum-backed candidate. Long Bailey has the advantage that Momentum has a large operation spreading across local parties and, most importantly, has access to data about the membership that the other candidates won’t get till later. The rules decided by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee on Monday state that the membership list will not be handed over to campaign teams until after the second stage of the nomination process, which is when candidates seek the nominations of local parties and affiliated organisations. This gives the Momentum-backed candidate a head start when it comes to contacting the membership.
Starmer also suffers from the disadvantage that there is no Momentum-like organisation which will marshal its supporters to vote for just one candidate. Labour First and Progress, who represent the Old Right and centrist wings of the party, aren’t going to instruct their members to back one contender, which means you won’t have members turning up en masse at local meetings in favour of Starmer or any other MP seeking to move away from Corbynism. So today’s endorsement from Unison is also a boost to a candidate who does not have the automatic support of a faction in the party. He is certainly the most likely to make it onto the ballot paper first.