Jeremy Corbyn's Labour leadership bid helped by Unite members' vote push

About 30,000 members of the union backing leftwing candidate have signed up as registered party supporters, meaning they can vote in the contest

Jeremy Corbyn’s prospects in the Labour leadership election were boosted when it was confirmed that about 30,000 Unite members have signed up as registered party supporters, making them eligible to vote in the contest.

The trade union has been supporting the leftwing candidate. He was initially seen as on the fringes of the four-way race, but he is gaining so much support that he is being taken more seriously.

Corbyn has the second highest number of Labour nominations by constituency parties of the contenders, with a total of 28 compared with 25 for Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, and 36 for Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary.

The Islington North MP’s strong anti-austerity views have struck a chord with at least some activists, and his campaign team claims his bid has grown from being a token gesture designed to set out a left alternative to the mainstream candidates.

Liz Kendall, the candidate arguing for a return to the centre, has only four nominations, but may yet receive support from high-profile MPs closer to the date when ballot papers go out. Her best hope of avoiding fourth place is if ordinary party members, shaken by the scale of the election defeat, take a sharply different view to the activists attending constituency party nomination meetings.

Corbyn’s team is pleased he is winning nominations in constituencies such as Gateshead and Leicester South where the MP has been backing other candidates. Corbyn is the speaker at the Durham Miners Gala this weekend and in hustings in Scotland he is going to underline his opposition to Trident, a potent issue on the Scottish left.

Corbyn had won the backing of Unite – the largest affiliated union – amid reports that the general secretary, Len McCluskey, advised against the move. The GMB, the second largest affiliate, is set to make a decision within a fortnight, as is the public sector union Unison which is expected to back Cooper or make no recommendation.

Latest figures show there are 248,293 Labour members, 12,266 registered supporters who have paid £3 to have a vote and 12,511 union registered supporters. The additional 30,000 Unite recruits will be added next week, taking the total electorate to more than 300,000.

The importance of a union executive recommendation is reduced partly because all candidates should have equal access to membership lists. But the union recommendation is likely to have some influence.

Corbyn’s campaign is being organised by Simon Fletcher, Ken Livingstone’s former chief and the former trade union liaison officer in Ed Miliband’s office.

It would be extraordinary if Corbyn beat either Cooper or Burnham to second place. Some Corbyn supporters believe Burnham, once seen as the trade union choice, is struggling to work out how to respond to a more leftwing candidate, and point to articles written by Rachel Reeves, a Burnham supporter, as proof that Burnham would support spending cuts.

There is growing alarm in parts of the shadow cabinet about Corbyn’s performance, including the wisdom of allowing him on to the ballot paper and so making it easier for the membership to avoid the tough economic message of the election defeat.

Speaking on BBC Question Time, Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary and a supporter of Kendall, said party members had to stop equating the politics that won Labour three elections as based on Tory values.

He said: “The party has got to get over Tony Blair. This is somebody that won three general elections. I very strongly did not agree with our action in Iraq, but that does not mean we should ignore all the fantastic things we did, like introducing the minimum wage.

“The party needs to think very carefully what message the result in September – when we select our leader – will send to the country, and it also needs to ask itself who the Tories want to do well in this contest and why.”

Kendall has warned that “turning Labour into some kind of Syriza or Podemos party or simply saying what we’ve said over the past five years – albeit with a leader with a different gender or a different accent – will not cut the mustard. We have faced a catastrophic defeat. We need huge change to win in 2020 and change the country.”

Anna Soubry, the small business minister in the Conservative government, said Labour was in hell of a mess and predicted that Corbyn would come second to Burnham, adding: “I think they will be out of government for 10 years.”


Patrick Wintour Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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