July 5, 2015 / 3:42 PM / 4 years ago

Unite backs left-wing lawmaker to lead Labour Party

LONDON (Reuters) - The British Labour Party’s biggest financial backer, trade union Unite, on Sunday backed left-wing lawmaker Jeremy Corbyn to be the party’s new leader.

Candidate Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a Labour Party leadership hustings event in Stevenage, Britain June 20, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Labour is searching for a new leader after Ed Miliband resigned in May on the back of the party’s heaviest election defeat in decades, when voters instead backed Prime Minister David Cameron’s centre-right Conservatives.

Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, donated around 20 million pounds to the party between the 2010 election and the 2015 vote. Its bosses have threatened to withdraw support if Labour moves too far towards the political centre ground.

“The backing for Jeremy Corbyn was in recognition that his policies were most closely aligned with those of Unite,” the union said in a statement following a vote of its elected executive committee.

Corbyn, 66, is regarded as an outsider to win the leadership contest, the outcome of which will determine if the party continues a shift to the political left started by Miliband, or moves back towards the centre ground from which it won three elections between 1997 and 2005 under Tony Blair.

Corbyn has won support from Labour’s sizeable left wing with his call to reject austerity and for Labour to become a “rejuvenated, democratic mass social movement.”

The former trade union official is one of four candidates vying for the leadership which will be decided by a ballot of Labour lawmakers, party members and union members. The new leader will be announced on Sept. 12.

The other candidates are Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper. Unite said Burnham, the bookies’ favourite, was their second-preference candidate.

Miliband relied on union support to defeat his more centrist brother David for the party leadership in 2010, but then led reform of the complex electoral college system which helped him win, in order to trim the role of unions.

But with more than 1.42 million members across a broad range of sectors and an influential leader in Len McCluskey - often referred to as ‘Red Len’ by the media - Unite is expected to retain an important role in the process.

Editing by Andrew Roche

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