Len McCluskey rumoured to be quitting Unite setting stage for leadership battle

Britain's second largest union has been forced to deny rumours its General Secretary Len McCluskey is poised to stand down after it emerged Sharon Graham is readying a bid to be its first female leader.

Graham, a Unite executive officer with responsibility for organising, has told supporters she will be running as an independent left candidate when the vacancy comes up.

It is understood she is keen to make a clean break from the status quo within the union, which has been dogged by close ties to Jeremy Corbyn ’s failed Labour leadership.

Amid rumblings executive stalwarts Howard Beckett and Steve Turner are preparing for a two-horse race for the post Graham has told members she is preparing to end the “jobs for the boys” culture within Unite.

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Mr Turner and Mr Beckett are both assistant general secretaries of the union, which has more than 1.2million members.

It has donated more than £200,000 to bolster Rebecca Long-Bailey’s bid to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

General Secretary Len McCluskey has repeatedly rounded on critics of Jeremy Corbyn, despite the party’s disastrous performance in last year’s General Election .

He has denied Rebecca Long-Bailey is a continuity candidate after critics said her victory would not move the party forward.

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In 2017 Mr McCluskey won re-election to the Unite leadership by defeating his opponent, Gerard Coyne, by 59,067 votes to 53,544.

Turnout was just over 12 per cent in the vote, which came as a relief to supporters of Jermey Corbyn because of Mr McCluskey’s backing.

The union holds strong influence over the Labour party, sitting on its National Executive Committee.

A source said: “One of the main left factions is now moving to select a candidate.

“There’s a big policy conference taking place in the summer with twice as many delegates as normal.

“Based on things he’s said to people inside the union it does seem all the kinds of manoeuvres are being made to find a successor, despite what he’s said publicly.”

A Unite spokesman said there was no truth in rumours Mr McCluskey was planning to stand down.

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