Labour: Left has to 'regroup' says Len McCluskey
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The incumbent general-secretary of the union was hoping to be replaced by his ally Steve Turner. However, early sampling from ballot papers showed outside candidate Sharon Graham heading for about 37 percent of the vote.
Mr Turner and Gerard Coyne were both on approximately 31 to 31 percent.
Ms Graham’s win is set to be a huge blow to the outgoing general-secretary.
Unite is the Labour Party’s biggest trade union funder and under Mr McCluskey, it backed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.
According to the Financial Times, Ms Graham is an “insurgency candidate” with little interest in Labour Party politics and her shock win could give Sir Keir Starmer a reprieve ahead of the party conference.
Insiders are estimating Ms Graham – who would be the first female leader of the Unite union – could have a majority of around 6,000 votes.
A spokesman for her campaign said: “She has fought against the odds and triumphed.
“We were told she was a no-hoper, now it looks she has won.
“Unite workers have come behind her banner.
“It’s time Unite went back to what it says on the trade union tin – fighting relentlessly for jobs, pay and conditions.”
They added: “The sampling of the vote is going on now.
“The more it goes on the better it looks for us.
“Of course we will only get the result when the count is finished tomorrow.
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“But we are confident Sharon is going to win it.
“If she does it will be a historic victory for the campaign and the workers in Britain and Ireland.”
While on the Left, Ms Graham campaigned on putting more emphasis on the workplace rather than Westminster politics.
Those close to Ms Graham said she has little interest in Labour’s internal disputes and could give the party anxious moments.
In the run-up to the 2019 general election, the union gave the party £3m but Ms Graham previously said she wanted to see “payment by results”.
While not campaigning explicitly on reducing contributions to Labour, she said she would not give the party a “blank cheque”.
Mr McCluskey has been very critical of Sir Keir’s tenure and funded legal challenges to the party over suspensions and expulsions.
Sir Keir suspended his predecessor from the part in October 2020 after he said claims of antisemitism in Labour had been “exaggerated” and were a “factional attack”.
In his memoirs due to be published next month, the hard-left socialist launches a scathing assessment of Sir Keir’s time at the helm, warning Labour’s ship could “go under” under his tenure.
The damning book is being published to mark Mr McCLuskey’s retirement as he steps down as Unite general secretary.
He accuses Sir Keir of “vapid New Labour cliches” that will see Red Wall voters once again back the Conservatives at the next election.
The close ally of Mr Corbyn also attacks the current leader for an “anti-democratic crackdown on the left”.
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