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Unite challenger accuses Corbyn ally Len McCluskey of 'dabbling in politics'

A senior official in the UK's biggest union has launched a leadership bid, accusing Unite's current general secretary Len McCluskey of "dabbling in politics all the time".

Midlands' regional secretary Gerard Coyne said the union under Mr McCluskey, a key ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was " not actually focusing on the concerns of our membership".

During a speech setting out his leadership campaign at an event in Birmingham on Tuesday, Mr Coyne said the "time is right for change" at the top as he vowed that his primary focus would be Unite's 1.4 million members.

Speaking at the city's landmark Fort Dunlop building, he said: "Unite has become too much of a political commentator and not actually focusing on the concerns of our membership."

He said workers' "real concerns" were what he called "the cold winds of globalisation", a decade of stalled wages, the growth in agency and zero-hour contracts, and the need to protect workers' rights.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Coyne added: "The reality here is there's been much criticism about the fact that the general secretary and the union more generally has just been dabbling in politics all the time.

"I'm not going to fall into the trap of trying to determine who the leader of the Labour Party is.

"I am saying that actually my focus is on the members.

"It's not a political organisation, it's a trade union."

He said the membership wanted "something different".

Mr Coyne, who has been regional secretary for 11 years, said the union should be focusing on the needs of members over key issues such as pay and conditions, not politics.

He said: "We represent working people and maybe that focus has been lost in recent times.

"Certainly it's my intention to make sure it's brought back to being full square on what Unite does."

He also said the union would "always support the Labour Party" but that if it "genuinely represents the world of work, then all political parties will listen to us - not just the Labour Party".

A union officer for 20 years, Mr Coyne added: "I wouldn't be standing for general secretary if I didn't think change was necessary.

"I do think the sense among our members is there has been a lot of change across the world, in votes this year, and I think the sense among our membership is they do want something different, they want that change."

He said of Unite members: "They know it's time to take back their union".

Mr McCluskey triggered a leadership contest last week by giving notice of his resignation.

But he immediately announced that he would be standing for a third term in the general secretary election, set to take place in April 2017, and will remain in the post until the end of the ballot.

He had been expected to stand down at the end of his current term in 2018, but if he wins the forthcoming leadership ballot, Mr McCluskey would still be in post at the next general election in 2020.

In a statement, he said: "I intend to be a candidate in the upcoming general secretary election and to submit my record to the vote of Unite members."

His resignation only takes effect from April 28 - the date when the leadership election finishes.

The union's members will be balloted on their choice for general secretary and will also be deciding the make-up of the union's executive council.

In a statement on December 6, Mr McCluskey said: "This will be an election in which Unite will be under unprecedented scrutiny, particularly from our enemies."

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