Sharon Graham is said to be “confident” of winning the competition to be Unite’s next leader in what would be a surprise loss for Steve Turner, the candidate preferred by current union general secretary Len McCluskey.
Graham’s team released a statement on Tuesday saying they were certain of victory, based on preliminary results seen after around 10% of the ballots were opened for sampling.
The union says it plans to announce the official result on Thursday, but the candidates – Graham, Turner and Gerard Coyne – expect the winner’s name to emerge before that date and the count could end on Wednesday after- midday.
Unite is the second largest union in the country and the largest donor to the Labor Party. For the past 10 years it has been led by McCluskey, a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn who has advocated for Labor to reject Blairism and adopt a left-wing economic agenda.
McCluskey explicitly endorsed Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary, as his successor, and Turner was considered the favorite in the contest. His defeat would likely be greeted by Labor leader Keir Starmer, who, like many of his predecessors, has been regularly criticized by McCluskey.
A source claimed Tuesday that early sampling of the ballots showed Graham was heading for around 37% of the vote, with Turner and Coyne both having around 31-32%. The source claimed these numbers were based on a representative sample and should provide a reliable guide to the end result.
A spokesperson for Graham’s campaign said: “The sampling of the vote is ongoing. The more it advances, the better it seeks us. Of course, we will only get the result when the individual count is finished tomorrow. But we are confident Sharon will win it.
Coyne, who launched an unsuccessful challenge against McCluskey for leadership in 2017, was the most “centrist” of the three contestants in the contest this summer, and has been described as the most favored by Starmer – although Starmer himself did not stand up. not publicly expressed a point of view on the outcome.
Graham, like Turner, is a full time Unite manager and left winger. But in her campaign, she said she was “not interested in the internal game played in a political party” and instead wanted to focus on workplace issues.
Over one million Unite members were eligible to vote in the contest, but only around 124,000 ballots were returned, a participation rate of around 12%.
Graham would be the first woman to lead Unite and this is believed to have heightened its appeal in the election – around 290,000 Unite members are women.
Graham also got credit from some MPs for refusing to step down so the left could unite behind a single candidate. Howard Beckett, a Unite official who vehemently criticized Starmer, stepped down and endorsed Turner, but the move raised questions about the power Beckett would be allowed to wield in the union if Turner won.