Keir Starmer has won the backing of Labour-affiliated trade union UNISON in a major boost for his leadership campaign.
The UK’s largest union backed the frontrunner, who has already received enough MP nominations to get through to the next stage of the process, on the basis of a decision by its Labour Link committee.
Starmer is now on track to fly through the second stage of the leadership election, which requires candidates to secure the nominations of either 5% of local parties or three affiliated organisations including two trade unions.
It is thought very likely that UNISON will also back Angela Rayner, the clear frontrunner in Labour’s deputy leadership race, as the MP was a trade union rep of theirs – despite her running on an informal ‘joint ticket’ with Rebecca Long-Bailey.
UNISON endorsed Jeremy Corbyn in the 2015 leadership election, with Yvette Cooper as a second choice, and backed Corbyn again in 2016 over challenger Owen Smith.
But its endorsement of Starmer did not come as a big surprise – particularly because the affiliated union had supported the policy of holding a fresh referendum on EU membership and an all-out Remain stance ahead of the 2019 election.
Responding to the news, Starmer said he was “honoured”, adding: “UNISON members represent some of the best of our movement and our country… I want to lead a Labour Party that will stand side-by-side with trade unionists. United we can rebuild our party, take the fight to the Tories and win.”
Commenting on the decision, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is a pivotal time for Labour. We believe – if elected by the membership – Keir Starmer would be a leader to bring the party together and win back the trust of the thousands of voters who deserted Labour last month.
“Unions created the Labour Party to give working people a voice in Westminster. But it can only achieve for them, their families, their communities and the country’s public services when in government.
“Keir has a clear vision to get Labour back to the winning ways of the past. He is best placed to take on Boris Johnson, hold his government to account and ensure Labour can return to power and once more change working people’s lives for the better.”
Vice-chair of UNISON’s Labour Link committee Linda Hobson said: “Under Keir Starmer’s leadership Labour could move forward and learn the lessons from – and understand the reasons for – the party’s terrible defeat last month.
“With Keir, Labour could also move the country on from Brexit and start to heal the painful divisions created by the referendum.”