130,000 new Labour members can vote in leadership ballot, High Court rules... but NEC will appeal

© Suzanne Plunkett
Labour Party members who joined after January 12 have won the right to vote in the approaching leadership contest, but the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has vowed to appeal the High Court ruling.

A High Court judge said the NEC had committed a “breach of contract” by restricting those eligible to vote in the leadership election.

The original ban affected an estimated 130,000 new party members, who had joined Labour after the “freeze date” on January 12 this year.

Now, the victory of five new members - Christine Evangelou, Hannah Fordham, Rev Edward Leir, Chris Granger and a minor named only as “FM” - could open the door to the thousands who felt unfairly excluded from the contest between challenger Owen Smith and incumbent Jeremy Corbyn.

The five members’ solicitor Kate Harrison told the press the court’s decision, including the rule to let minors vote in the election, is a triumph for democracy.

“This case was about the right to vote under the Labour Party constitution, under which all members are equal and valued,” she said.

“This is a good day for democracy, a good day for my clients who are proud to be members of the party that stands for social justice, and a good day for the Labour Party.”

Many believe the court ruling will give Corbyn an advantage, as the bulk of new members are understood to be supporters of the Labour leader. Evangelou, a fitness instructor from north London, said she believes new members like herself want to work with Corbyn and “take the party back to its roots.”

Her co-claimant Leir echoed the sentiment, saying: “The Labour Party has seen the greatest surge in membership of any party in decades, with people joining to support a process of change in this country - a change that is desperately needed both politically and economically.

“I am deeply grateful for the support of so many: the donations of over 1,700 people to support the substantial costs in taking this action for democracy.”

The NEC appeals

The Labour Party’s NEC has now decided to take the case to the Court of Appeal, where a hearing could take place later this week.

A spokesman for the party said: “It is right that the Labour Party seeks to defend vigorously decisions of the National Executive Committee in this matter.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had earlier urged his colleagues to end the ongoing dispute and move onwards with the leadership elections as newly amended.

“We are appalled by the possibility of an unnecessary and costly appeal,” said McDonnell, who also chairs Corbyn’s campaign.

“If it is taken forwards, the party will be using members’ money to try to stop members from voting. This is unacceptable.

“I’m calling on Owen Smith to join with us in backing party members and calling on the Labour Party not to appeal and attempt to disenfranchise members. We are now calling on the Labour Party bureaucracy to act sensibly and play by the rules for the rest of this leadership election.”

What banned voters think

Speaking to RT, Alison, a teacher from Waltham Forest in London who had originally been excluded from the vote, said she was “delighted” with the result.

“I joined Labour on June 28. I was in despair after the Brexit vote and then saw the [Parliamentary Labour Party] line up to destroy the one hope I could see for the future: the potential for change with Corbyn as Labour Party leader.

“When the NEC voted to deny my vote I was angry and astonished at the lack of respect for members and internal democracy.”

“[Now] I can vote as was my right and I will vote for Corbyn to continue to be leader.”