Labour’s ruling body has won its bid to overturn a high court decision allowing new party members to vote in the forthcoming leadership election, a ruling that could bar tens of thousands of supporters of Jeremy Corbyn from voting in the ballot. The ruling by three court of appeal judges, Lord Justice Beatson, Lady Justice Macur and Lord Justice Sales, will mean 130,000 new members who joined less than six months ago will not be able to vote in the forthcoming poll between Corbyn and Owen Smith for the Labour leadership. Corbyn’s campaign condemned the decision as wrong “both legally and democratically”, warning that it threatened to disenfranchise members who were explicitly told upon joining the party that they would have a vote in any leadership election. “Crucial to the outcome today was the introduction of a new argument by the Labour party HQ’s lawyers, who invoked an obscure clause in the Labour party rules (chapter 4, clause II, 1A), which could be read as giving the NEC the right to ignore all of the rules laid out for leadership elections,” a campaign spokesman said. “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 protracted legal battle over voter eligibility in the election entered a new phase when the Labour party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, appealed against an earlier ruling that in effect sanctioned Corbyn’s decision to allow new members to vote. The process has seen the extraordinary situation of Labour’s ruling body and its leader on opposite sides of hearings in the high court and court of appeal
Acting on behalf of the party as a whole, McNicol appealed against an earlier ruling that found in favour five new Labour members, who challenged a decision by the national executive committee to ban new members from voting. McNicol argued the NEC had the power to define eligibility to vote in the Labour leadership election.
The five Labour party members – Christine Evangelou, the Rev Edward Leir, Hannah Fordham, Chris Granger and “FM”, a teenage member – must pay £30,000 towards the NEC’s costs, which are £60,000 in total, within 28 days. Permission to appeal to the supreme court has been denied, but an application could still be made directly by the appellants.