Corbyn investigating claims leadership contest is being rigged

Labour leader says he hopes party officials are not working against him but claims he cannot rule out possibility

Jeremy Corbyn has revealed he is investigating allegations that Labour’s leadership contest is being rigged against him after a number of his supporters received letters barring them from taking part.

In an interview with the Guardian, the Labour leader said he hoped party officials were not working against him but could not rule out the possibility.

“I’m surprised at the numbers of people who’ve been denied a vote and I’m surprised at the lack of reason that’s been given to people,” he said, in his strongest intervention on the subject so far.

“I’m concerned about that because surely in a democratic process everyone should be entitled to vote unless there is some very good reason against them.”

Corbyn revealed that he had demanded the name of every person who had been denied a vote, saying he was unhappy about the situation but not “obsessed” because he remained confident that large numbers of his supporters would be able to vote.

In a wide-ranging interview, he also responded to the children’s author JK Rowling after she expressed her frustration with his expected re-election as leader on Twitter, claiming Labour would not laugh in the future because “this isn’t bloody funny”.

Calling her a “wonderful writer” and saying he would buy her new book, Corbyn admitted “she seems to have some differences with me at the moment”.

“I’m disappointed about that but I’ve never met her – I look forward to meeting her to discuss these matters but I will buy her book,” he said, opening up the possibility of a face-to-face meeting if Rowling agrees.

A Jeremy Corbyn supporter in the crowd at the rally in Ramsgate
A Jeremy Corbyn supporter in the crowd at the rally in Ramsgate. Photograph: Vickie Flores/REX/Shutterstock

Asked if he would welcome one of the world’s most successful writers into the Labour movement – perhaps as an MP – he added: “It’s not up to me to decide who Labour MPs are.”

The leader also responded to the suggestion from Labour MP Frank Field that MPs felt they were facing an “execution squad” from Corbyn supporters who wanted to deselect politicians ahead of a general election.

“There is no execution squad – what there is is a greater democracy in the party,” said the leader, insisting that he would not interfere in local selections.

“I’m saying party members must have a chance to decide who they want and what they want. That is what a thriving democracy is about.”

However, he did raise the prospect that a major review of parliamentary constituencies, due next week, could result in far more Labour MPs having to go through a reselection process.

Corbyn pointed out that MPs would have to undergo the so-called “trigger ballot mechanism”, which could allow local members to act against them, although in 20 years it has rarely been used to remove a sitting politician.

Corbyn’s comments about the alleged rigging of the contest came alongside claims from individuals that they have been unfairly cut out of the process.

According to documents seen by the Guardian, Shaun Owens received a letter warning that intimidating or abusive behaviour would not be tolerated but said he could not find the offensive tweet the party suggested he had posted.

Dr Gemma Angel was blocked for supporting the Green party on social media in 2014, before becoming a member. Chris Devismes said he was restricted because of “inappropriate content on Twitter on 27 July” but claimed the only material was stating that he wasn’t a supporter of Corbyn’s challenger, Owen Smith.

But party sources have hit back at the suggestions. One leaked document suggested that members had been expelled for making abusive threats, including to “cut Tony Blair’s eyes out and set him on fire”, describing sitting MPs as “traitors” and publicly endorsing other political parties.

A Labour spokeswoman said there had been a “robust validation process” to ensure every vote cast was eligible under the rules, and said that members were free to call up and find out the exact reason for the suspensions.

“The Labour party is and should always be a place of tolerance and open debate but it should never tolerate this type of abusive language and threatening behaviour,” she said.

Others were less convinced, with one party source who supports Corbyn claiming that the national executive committee panels making the decisions were stacked against the current leader. They claimed that of eight people chosen to take part, only two were “consistent” supporters of the leader, and one was on the reserve list.

However, the claim was strongly denied by the party.

The row comes ahead of the first parliamentary Labour party meeting of the parliamentary term, at which MPs are voting about whether elections for the shadow cabinet should be reintroduced. The issue, which will have to go to the NEC and conference, is dividing politicians and the leadership, with Corbyn’s team suggesting members rather than MPs should be given a vote.

Contributor

Anushka Asthana Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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