Party bigwigs set to appeal against High Court decision restoring new members’ right to vote in leadership election
LABOUR MPs, affiliated unions and activists are calling on their party not to “waste members’ money” fighting yesterday’s High Court ruling restoring the right to vote to over 125,000 party members.
The national executive committee (NEC) decision to make voting in the current leadership contest dependent on six months’ continuous membership as of July 12 — meaning anyone who joined Labour after January 12 was shut out — was described by Mr Justice Hickinbottom yesterday as a “breach of contract.”
Ruling on a case brought by five members, he said their understanding that “as new members they would be entitled to vote in any leadership contest” was consistent with the Labour Party rule book and it was “unlawful” for the party to have taken their money and then changed the rules.
Because Labour required members who had joined after January 12 to pay £25 each to become “registered supporters” if they wanted a vote, if the ruling is upheld the party will have to refund them — possibly handing back more than £3 million.
But Mr Hickinbottom granted the right of appeal — and a Labour spokesman said the party would “defend vigorously the decisions of the NEC.”
An appeal by the party is likely to be heard on Thursday.
Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott said “Labour Party bureaucrats [should] not waste members’ money on appealing.
“This is the right ruling,” she said. “All internal elections have a freeze date but everyone knows about the freeze date in advance.
“Imposing a retrospective freeze date was wrong.”
Train drivers’ union Aslef said “squandering” over £200,000 on an appeal “which it is doomed to lose” was “morally wrong.”
“What a waste of time, of effort, and of money!” general secretary Mick Whelan exclaimed.
“Labour has always been a broad church. Of course we have different views, but we have much, much more in common.”
“That’s why the party should drop the appeal, accept the judge’s decision, and let the democratic wishes of party members prevail,” he said.
And shadow chancellor John McDonnelL said he was “appalled” at the prospect of the party using money members had paid in to stop them from voting.
Mr McDonnell said the ruling was “a huge victory for Labour Party members and party democracy.”
He called on Mr Corbyn’s challenger Owen Smith to add his voice to those telling the party not to appeal.
Mr Smith said he was “delighted that we have got 600,000-plus people voting in this leadership contest” but refused to “interfere” with NEC decisions.
Under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, Labour Party membership has trebled to become by far the largest party in Britain, up from 200,000 at the most recent general election.
Communication Workers Union general secretary Dave Ward said the party needed to “welcome the fact that 130,000 people have given up their time and money to join it in the last six months alone.”
He told Labour to “accept today’s decision, embrace the fact it now has more members than all other political parties combined and start building a mass social movement capable of winning the next election.”