Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey has won the endorsement of the Unite trade union, taking her one step closer to the members’ ballot.

Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, emerged from an all-day meeting of the union’s ruling executive to say it was their overwhelming view that “Becky has both the brains and the brilliance to take on Boris Johnson.

“She’s incredibly committed; very, very strong in her beliefs and her vision, for winning back our heartlands, but also speaking about the aspirational needs of the whole of our nation,” he added.

He added that all four of the candidates remaining in the race were leftwing – despite warnings by some Long-Bailey supporters, including Labour chair Ian Lavery, to beware a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, apparently a suggestion that some candidates may not be what they seem.

Keir Starmer has insisted that while he took a different stance to Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit, pushing for the party to embrace a remain position, he would not “oversteer” after December’s general election defeat.

Long-Bailey is widely believed to have the backing of Corbyn. She has urged Labour members to support Angela Rayner as deputy leader – but Unite instead decided to nominate Leeds MP and ardent Corbynite Richard Burgon.

Unite’s decision to back Long-Bailey means that under the complex rules for the contest, she only needs the support of one more union or other affiliated society to take her place on the ballot, alongside Starmer and Lisa Nandy.

The fourth contender remaining in the race, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, is battling to secure the support of 33 constituency labour parties (CLPs) – an alternative way onto the shortlist.

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Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips has already dropped out, after it became clear that she would not make it through without the backing of a major trade unions.

The final choice will be made by Labour members, with the result announced on 4 April at a special conference in London.

The first stage of the contest was for potential contenders to get the backing of 22 fellow MPs by 13 January. Five MPs passed this threshold: Keir Starmer (88 nominations),  Rebecca Long-Bailey (33), Lisa Nandy (31), Jess Phillips (23) and Emily Thornberry (23).

The second stage requires each contender to win the support either of 33 constituency Labour parties (CLPs); or of three affiliates, two of which must be unions, and which between them account for at least 5% of the affiliated membership. This must be achieved before 14 February. Jess Phillips withdrew from the contest on 21 January.

The ballot of members and registered supporters opens a week later on 21 February, and closes at noon on 2 April. To be eligible to vote you must have been a Labour member on 20 January, or have applied to have become a £25 registered supporter by 16 January.

Corbyn’s successor will be announced at a special conference in London on 4 April.

Starmer is well ahead in terms of CLP nominations, receiving 33 so far, with Long-Bailey and Nandy level-pegging on seven.

Long-Bailey has sought to underscore her leftist credentials, while emphasising that her leadership style will be different from Corbyn’s.

She has insisted Labour’s message must be more “aspirational, and in a campaign video released on Friday, she said: “We had nothing to say about power. Labour, the true party of the people, lost their trust.

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“I will never let this happen again,” she promised.

Long-Bailey has the backing of Momentum, the grassroots Labour campaign group set up to support Corbyn’s leadership, which brings with it access to a formidable member database.

Momentum is already organising phone banking events to support Long-Bailey, and its founder, Jon Lansman, is a senior figure in her campaign team. She has adopted a policy of backing open selections for Labour candidates before every general election – a long-held goal of the party’s leftwingers.

A 62-year-old Labour veteran who joined the party in 1974 and worked for Labour icon Tony Benn during his deputy leadership campaign in the 1980s. Lansman served as director of operations for Corbyn’s leadership campaign. After Corbyn was elected as the leader of the Labour party in 2015, Lansman founded Momentum, a pro-Corbyn campaign group.

Momentum, often described as a ‘party within a party’, has radically transformed the Labour party over the last four years. Local groups have challenged party orthodoxies and national membership rules, and fought to get their activists selected.

“I don’t want the Labour party to become a faction fight,” Lansman said in a 2016 interview with the Guardian. “What I want is a level playing field. I want the Labour party to be able to have a democratic debate.” But in recent weeks, Lansman, and Momentum, are back in the news for being key figures behind another Labour party civil war.

Lansman was behind the move to scrap Labour’s 40-year-old student wing, arguing the group needs reforming and had not paid its affiliation fees. Critics described the move as a cynical attempt to shut down a “moderate” wing of the party. Lansman also tabled a last-minute motion at the NEC last year calling for deputy leader Tom Watson’s job to be scrapped. The motion was withdrawn after Corbyn intervened.

Saturday’s Labour leadership hustings, which were due to be held in Leeds, were cancelled on Friday morning, after frontrunner Starmer announced that he would be calling off all campaign events this weekend because his mother-in-law is critically ill.

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Deputy leadership candidates will still face each other for a hustings on Saturday afternoon, however.

Starmer was represented at the Unite hustings on Friday by Labour MP Chris Matheson, as the candidates were put through their paces at an all-day meeting.



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