LABOUR officials were accused of using “grubby” tactics to win a court battle yesterday that clears the way for them to ban thousands of new party members from voting in the leadership contest.
A High Court judge ruled last week that the party had committed a breach of contract by excluding members who have joined since January 12 from voting.
But Labour general secretary Iain McNicol spent £60,000 on taking the case to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the party’s right to impose the “freeze date” on voting eligibility.
It means around 130,000 members — many of them assumed to be supporters of leader Jeremy Corbyn — will be stripped of the right to vote.
A spokesperson for Mr Corbyn branded the ruling “wrong both legally and democratically.”
They said: “The court’s ruling disenfranchises nearly 130,000 Labour members, who joined the party since January and were explicitly told that they would have a vote in any leadership election.”
Announcing the Court of Appeal’s decision, Lord Justice Beatson said: “On the correct interpretation of the party rules, the national executive committee has the power to set the criteria for members to be eligible to vote in the leadership election in the way that it did.”
But Mr Corbyn’s team said Labour lawyers had invoked an “obscure clause” in the the party rulebook which they said “could be read as giving the NEC the right to ignore all of the rules laid out for leadership elections.
“In other words, this is a ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ rule. We do not think that making it up as you go along is a reasonable way to conduct democracy in our party,” the spokesperson added.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused party officials of “undermining the democracy of our own party” by using a “grubby little device” to secure victory on a technicality.
Labour NEC chairman Paddy Lillis insisted the party was right to “defend vigorously” the decision of the committee to impose a freeze date at its meeting on July 12.
He said: “It is crucial to the Labour Party that our governing body has the authority to debate, decide and implement the procedures, timetable and voting eligibility for our internal elections and selections.
“It was the correct decision to seek clarification on this fundamental principle in the Court of Appeal.”
But Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “This is a sad day for democracy and makes a mockery of the efforts we have made to get people to participate in our parliamentary democracy, to become members of our political party, and to play a full part in the political process.”
The five members who took on Mr McNicol were ordered to pay the court costs but have already crowdfunded the necessary money.
They were refused an appeal yesterday but can still ask the Supreme Court justices directly to consider their case.
Their lawyer indicated in court that steps had already been taken which could lead to a hearing next Tuesday.
Deputy leader Tom Watson, who supported the legal appeal, has claimed that new members included “Trotsky entryists” who were “twisting the arms” of young members to support Mr Corbyn.
But shadow health secretary Diane Abbott hit back at the claims yesterday, branding his “reds under the beds” narrative as a “complete distraction.”
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The problem is that Westminster elites refuse to accept the fact that quite ordinary people — young people, people that left the party over Blair — are coming back to Labour in their tens of thousands because they absolutely believe in what Jeremy’s saying.”