Momentum congratulates hard-left candidate set for victory in Unite leadership contest

Sharon Graham has warned ‘no blank cheques’ for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party

<p>Unite leadership candidate Sharon Graham</p>

Unite leadership candidate Sharon Graham

Hard-left figure Sharon Graham is set to win a surprise victory and become the next general secretary of Unite, the union which remains the Labour Party’s biggest funder.

Ms Graham – backed by the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party – is on course to take the contest, union sources have said.

Her team is now “confident” of winning the election over Steve Turner, the candidate favoured by outgoing leader Len McCluskey, and Gerard Coyne – the candidate sympathetic to Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership.

Momentum, the grassroots group set up after Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader to support his policies, said it welcomed Ms Graham’s “victory” in the contest.

“Unite members have made their voices heard,” said co-chair Gaya Sriskanthan. “They want a union that organises, that builds power in the workplace, and that uses its leverage to take on bad bosses.”

Ms Sriskanthan added: “Sharon campaigned on that promise and we fundamentally agree that any route to progressive change in Britain requires working class organisation to be stronger than ever before. We look forward to working with Unite and our allies across the Labour movement to achieve that goal.”

Although the official results do not come until Thursday, Ms Graham’s team said they were confident on winning based on preliminary results from about 10 per cent of ballot papers opened for sampling purposes.

A spokesman for her campaign said: “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. But we are confident Sharon is going to win it.”

One union source told HuffPost UK that the piles of ballot papers for Ms Graham were clearly larger than for Mr Turner and Mr Coyne. “She’s on course to win, no question,” they said.

Mr Turner had been viewed as the clear favourite for the leadership after he won Mr McCluskey’s endorsement earlier in the summer when the key Corbyn ally announced he was stepping down.

But Ms Graham – who would be the first woman to lead Unite if she emerges victorious – won credit from members by refusing to heed Mr Turner’s call to quit the race in case she split the vote on the left.

Despite Ms Graham’s left-wing credentials and support from the Socialist Workers Party, she has made clear she does not want to engage in constant bickering with Sir Keir and the Labour leadership team.

She said last month: “Labour will likely be in opposition for most of the next decade and workers can’t afford to wait...we can be more effective by ridding ourselves of the obsession with fighting yesterday’s wars within Labour.”

But she also suggested Labour could not be certain of the union’s financial support, saying she favours “payment by results” and warning there there would be “no blank cheque” under her leadership.

Mr Coyne, Sir Keir’s favoured candidate, told The Independent earlier this month that he would maintain Labour’s funding and wouldn’t “purge” his opponents in the way that Mr McCluskey purged him.

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