New union members barred from voting in Labour leader election

National executive committee has stopped union affiliates who joined in the past six months from taking part

Tens of thousands of union members have been barred from voting in Labour’s closely fought leader’s election, party sources have confirmed.

A meeting of the ruling national executive committee decided on Thursday to stop union affiliates who have joined in the past six months from taking part in September’s vote.

The move will almost certainly help those who wish to remove Jeremy Corbyn from office. Union sources say they are “not ruling out” legal action to challenge the decision and have sought urgent clarification over the new ruling.

Party sources said the decision brought union affiliates in line with similar restrictions placed on those who joined the party as full members. It means that anyone who now wishes to cast a vote for the next leader but did not join before 12 January has a two-day window from 18 to 20 July, before 5pm, to pay £25 to the Labour party to become a registered supporter.

A leadership contest was sparked on Monday when the former shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle, announced she would stand against Corbyn, swiftly followed by the former shadow welfare secretary, Owen Smith.

More than 3,000 people joined Britain’s biggest union, Unite, in a single day after it offered potential members a cut-price vote in the forthcoming Labour leadership contest.

Many are thought to have reacted to calls from its leader, Len McCluskey, to stop what he has called an anti-democratic coup against Corbyn.

It is also a reaction against tough new rules introduced by Labour’s executive to deter those who do not support the Labour party from casting a vote.

Under revised rules, supporters who want to register to get a vote in this year’s leadership contest will have to pay £25, compared with £3 in 2015. Party members will get an automatic right to vote only if they have been members for at least six months, eliminating the 130,000 who have joined since the referendum, believing they would get a vote.

A procedure committee from the NEC convened at the party’s Southside office in Victoria, central London, at 10.30am to discuss the proposal to bring union affiliates into line with party members.

The party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is the procedure committee’s returning officer. Others on the committee include Ann Black, Keith Birch, Diana Holland, Jim Kennedy, Paddy Lillis, Ellie Reeves, Mary Turner, Tom Watson, Margaret Beckett and Glenis Willmott.

McCluskey has been one of Corbyn’s most vociferous backers, and stayed loyal to him as he faced a vote of no confidence backed by three-quarters of Labour MPs. More than 60 MPs resigned from the frontbench complaining that Corbyn was not a competent leader.

Unite has 1.4 million members with about 550,000 affiliated members. People who have been union members for more than six months can still register as an affiliate supporter and vote if they register before 8 August.

Party sources confirmed the procedure committee’s decision.

On Thursday, Unite’s conference in Brighton voted in favour of mandatory reselection for all Labour MPs. If carried through to the party, the proposal would mean that activists could unseat their parliamentary representatives.

The proposal will alarm some on the right of the party who have sought assurances that Corbyn’s supporters are not preparing to use the Boundary Commission review – in which it is identifying 50 seats to abolish – to get rid of the Labour leader’s critics. MPs will find out in the autumn whether their constituencies are likely to be scrapped for the 2020 election.

Unite declined to say whether McCluskey would ask the party to adopt the motion, adding that it reflected the frustration that members felt. “[Unite’s members] look at the conduct of some within the party, the challenge to the elected leader, and they feel angered. They want Labour fighting the Tories, not among themselves,” the spokesperson said.

It has emerged that unions do not want McNicol to be involved in challenging a Labour donor’s court case to overturn the decision to put Corbyn on the ballot. Informed sources said they did not trust the general secretary to launch an adequate defence against a high court application from Michael Foster, a former parliamentary candidate.

NEC members wrestled with legal advice for six hours over whether Corbyn would need to secure 51 nominations to make it on to the ballot paper after both sides insisted the party rulebook backed their case.

Foster has instructed lawyers and claims that, if the case is heard, a ruling could be made within days. “It’s about the rule of law,” he told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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