Len McCluskey has been re-elected leader of the Unite union in a result that will be greeted with relief by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.
The incumbent defeated his opponent, Gerard Coyne, following a bitterly fought campaign. McCluskey won 59,067 votes (45.4% of the vote), Coyne 53,544 (41.5%) and grassroots candidate Ian Allinson 17,143 (13.1%), on a turnout of just over 12%, the union announced.
Coyne’s team was hoping for a high turnout of up to 20% of the membership, which they believed would have ensured a surprise victory. McCluskey’s vote dropped from 144,570 in 2013 to 59,067.
The result will be seen as a boost for the Labour leader and the left of the Labour party.
McCluskey claimed victory in a tweet on Friday when his official account said: “Thank you for all your support. We can confirm Len has won more soon.”
McCluskey is a staunch supporter of Corbyn and is expected to support rule changes within the party that will ensure that a leftwing candidate will be able to stand as leader of the party in future.
The result will not stop an ongoing row within the union over McCluskey’s support for Corbyn or the union’s decision to discipline Coyne. Hours before the tweet, a Labour peer compared the behaviour of the union to the North Korean regime following Coyne’s suspension just hours after ballot boxes were closed.
Coyne was suspended from his job as a Unite official on Thursday pending an investigation.
Baroness Prosser, a supporter of Coyne and former president of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the union had refused to say why he had been suspended and acted after first reports showed that Coyne might beat McCluskey.
She told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “My understanding is that the election was going well for Gerard and on some kind of analysis of how the votes were going that it looked as though he was going to win.
“And so for the next thing to hear is that he has been suspended and the union is not saying why, that just looks like something that might go on in North Korea.”
The suspension came just hours after the ballot was closed on Wednesday afternoon, amid reports that the result was extremely close. The result will not be officially announced until 28 April but a result could be leaked later on Friday.
Unite, which has 1.4 million members, making it Britain’s biggest union, gives Labour £1.5m a year, while McCluskey is a vocal supporter of Corbyn.
Many senior figures in the Labour movement have been focused on the battle to control Unite because it will decide whether the rules will be changed to ensure that a leftwing candidate gets on to the next leadership ballot if Corbyn loses the election.