The leftwinger Howard Beckett has pulled out of the race to succeed Len McCluskey as general secretary of the Unite union at the last minute to throw his weight behind the frontrunner Steve Turner.
Beckett announced the decision on Friday as ballot papers were about to be printed. It followed failed talks earlier in the week to select a leftwing unity candidate to take on Gerard Coyne.
In a joint statement, Beckett and Turner said they would work together to produce a “blended manifesto, taking the best ideas from both candidates”.
“Howard Beckett has decided he will support Steve Turner as Unite’s next general secretary,” the statement said. “Both recognise the vision and strengths of their respective campaigns and Steve Turner recognises the key manifesto commitments and energy generated by Howard’s campaign.”
A third leftwing candidate, Sharon Graham, is not expected to withdraw her name. Peace talks between the three broke down without agreement earlier in the week, and Beckett had suggested drawing a name at random to decide who should stand.
Turner won the most nominations to secure his place on the ballot paper, with 525, but Graham surprised many by coming second with 349 and Beckett came third with 328.
McCluskey’s supporters fear a Coyne win would mean Unite abandoning its staunch backing of leftwing causes, and reduce the left’s influence on Labour policy.
Unite under McCluskey was intricately entwined with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. He was a vocal backer, his close friend Karie Murphy served as Corbyn’s chief of staff and Unite’s chief of staff, Andrew Murray, was seconded as a part-time adviser to the Labour leader.
McCluskey has been a strong critic of Keir Starmer and his style of leadership.
Beckett, the union’s former legal adviser who was recently suspended from Labour for saying Priti Patel should be deported rather than refugees, has been a close aide to McCluskey. He advocates an increase in the union’s strike fund from £40m to £50m.
Turner, who has also been close to McCluskey, was seen as the favourite to win after securing the support of the United Left faction. He has argued for more pragmatism from the union’s leaders.
The 2017 battle for the Unite leadership was hugely divisive and led to Coyne being suspended from his position in the union.