UNION firebrand Len McCluskey is plotting to strengthen the hard-Left’s grip on Labour – by backing Rebecca Long-Bailey for the leadership.
The Unite boss named her as the “chosen one” in secret talks with Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies days after the humiliating election defeat.
He called the mini-summit to decide which candidate is most likely to stop the party returning to the centre ground.
Those consulted included Mr Corbyn’s chief of staff Karie Murphy, director of strategy Seumas Milne and Labour general secretary Jennie Formby.
They agreed that shadow business secretary Ms Long-Bailey, 40, is currently the best hope of carrying the Corbynista torch.
A source said: “They reached the conclusion that Becky would be the best option to keep Labour moving in the same direction. But they won’t rush into anointing her at this stage.”
If their support is formalised it would mobilising thousands of Lefties who joined the party under Corbyn into backing her campaign.
Details of the talks emerged as the former NHS solicitor was taking advice from hard-Left activist Alex Halligan, who worked on Mr Corbyn’s successful 2015 leadership campaign.
But the move brought despair to exhausted moderates who say the party needs swift and drastic change to save it from total collapse.
A senior MP said: “This is a stitch-up to make the next leader another puppet for Red Len. We will never return to power until we’ve got to get rid of the malign influence of Unite and the hard-Left.
“The problem is anyone with enough balls to do that can’t win while we have so many Left-wing members.”
But unlike the hard-Left, Labour moderates are divided over who to rally behind as the “change” candidate.
'CARRYING CORBYNISTA TORCH'
Several MPs want Mr Corbyn to step down now and let the search for a successor being.
Gareth Thomas, one of 35 MPs who nominated Mr Corbyn for the leadership in 2015, joined the calls yesterday.
He said: “In the last 50 years, Labour has won just four of the last 14 general elections. How many more do we have to lose before a Labour leader recognises that it is not enough to be principled? We have to be perceived to be moderate, patriotic and fiscally responsible as well.”
The full extent of Mr Corbyn’s shambolic election campaign became clear as MPs returned to Westminster last week.
One ex-minister claimed Labour was losing votes “by the day”.
The MP said: “Another week of campaigning and we would have lost 50 more seats. We came very close to the point of no return.
“We now have a big chance to save the party and turn this around. But if we don’t pick the right leader this time, it’s the end.”
But all the Labour MPs considering running for the job voted against Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal on Friday – prompting accusations they are still not listening to the people.
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Ex-MP Caroline Flint, who lost her seat in last week’s election, said: “The Tories have set a trap and every potential Labour leader has walked into it by voting against the bill to leave the EU.”
Another senior Labour MP added: “”We need somebody who can steady the ship, turn it around slowly and give Boris Johnson a run for his money. We need to cauterise the wound before we stop the bleeding.
“The Tories are on a roll. There’s nothing in their Queen’s Speech that I can object to. If we don’t turn this around the party won’t survive.”
KEIR Starmer is the most recognisable face of wannabe Labour leaders, a poll shows.
The Brexit spokesman, right, topped a private survey by MPs. Only Emily Thornberry and Tom Watson, no longer an MP, came near.
Rebecca Long-Bailey finished bottom.
Sir Keir’s pals say a surge of new members will give him 25,000 votes in the contest.