Ed Balls

Kiran Stacey

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband

Unison has become the second big union to back the younger Miliband in the labour leadership contest, following the GMB’s decision to do so last week. Unions carry a third of the vote in the leadership contest, and with two of the biggest now supporting Ed, he is starting to be talked about as a very credible challenger to his brother David, who remains favourite.

Ed said: “To have received the backing of a union representing millions of frontline workers is a real boost for my campaign to lead our party.”

But the big one is still to declare. That is Unite, the combined mega-union which has among its members the BA cabin crew.

It has been assumed that since Charlie Whelan, a former Brown adviser and close friend of Ed Balls, is Unite’s political director, the union would back Balls. But as the Guardian’s Michael White points out, Unite is not particularly, erm, united – and at least one of its general secretaries, Derek Simpson, supports Ed Miliband. If Unite do swing behind Mili-E, his campaign will have all the momentum. Read more

Jim Pickard

I can’t claim this one is a scoop: press release just in from the Communication Workers Union. Relief in the Balls camp no doubt. Read more

Jim Pickard

You have to admire Ed Balls for his persistence. On this morning’s Today programme he suggested that the New Labour battles between the Brown and Blair camps were merely a spot of “creative tension” that led to “great achievements.”

Bear in mind that there were vicious screaming matches between the two men and periods where they were barely on speaking terms – creating dysfunction at the top of the government machineRead more

Jim Pickard

As Britain’s largest union Unite should have considerable influence over the leadership contest; unions make up a third of the total voting. Although unions don’t have single bloc votes they can tell members who they favour.

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Jim Pickard

It would have been more of a surprise if the coalition had decided to hold its referendum on voting reform on a different day; for example in October.

The working assumption for the last month has been that the ballot would co-incide with the May 5 local elections, as the BBC is reporting this morning. The only arguments against that had been that a] it could confuse people if they had to vote on two separate things and b] the Electoral Commission may not be in favour. Neither seem to be major obstacles.

The Lib Dems are itching to get on and hold the referendum as soon as possible; for many it is the one major reason for being in government – as strange as that may seem to sceptics.

Their first challenge will be explaining the AV system to people and then convincing them to care one way or another. The second will be rebutting a strong anti campaign by their supposed friends in the Tory party.

Meanwhile Labour will not hesitate to exploit the situation to its own advantage. Forget the fact that some Labour figures have gone public on their enthusiasm for electoral reform in recent years. (Some have seemed more sincere than others). Key frontbenchers see the referendum as a golden opportunity to force the downfall of the coalition, as splits appear between the yellow and blue partners. Read more

Jim Pickard

There is a bit of speculation around Westminster that the former schools secretary may not gather the 33 MPs he needs to mount a leadership bid – even with the deadline extended from Thursday to June 9. The theory is that his charms are lost on some members of the PLP. Read more

Jim Pickard

The launch of Ed Balls’ leadership bid today is a reminder of why his efforts may founder; he’s just too close to the ancien regime. As former acolyte of Gordon Brown he will always struggle to set out an alternative vision for Labour without knifing the former prime minister. Read more

The Labour national executive has opted for the long game: the next leader will be anointed on September 25. This is probably bad news for party’s right wing: the longer the campaign, the more pressure there will be to woo the grassroots with promises to protect spending.

It was apparently a “friendly and comradely” meeting. But the stakes were high. Those lobbying for an extended campaign wanted to stop a “coronation” and give all the outsiders  (Burnham, Balls etc) time to grab the spotlight.

But I expect the bigger problem for David Miliband will be the kind of commitments that will have to be made in the leadership race.

This campaign is not only going to straddle the emergency Budget. It will end just weeks before the most austere spending review in living memory. There’s a good chance of a “cuts vs investment” auction. Read more

The Brown team assembled today for the last full cabinet photo before the election. Two ministers were notably absent: Alistair Darling and David Miliband. They both had good excuses. But somehow it seems fitting. Was this as close as Brown will ever get to his fantasy cabinet? You have to wonder whether Ed Balls assumed the chancellor’s place. Smiles everyone!