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130,000 new members excluded from Labour vote after court challenge dropped

Published 14/08/2016

Jeremy Corbyn steps off the back of a fire engine after speaking at a leadership campaign event in Station Square, Milton Keynes
Jeremy Corbyn steps off the back of a fire engine after speaking at a leadership campaign event in Station Square, Milton Keynes

Labour's leadership election will go ahead with the exclusion of around 130,000 new members after five of their number dropped their legal challenge against the decision to bar them.

The Court of Appeal on Friday overturned a previous judgment and therefore reinstated the decision of Labour's ruling body to exclude those who had not joined the party by January 12 and held membership continuously until July 12 - the "freeze date".

Many of the members affected are believed to back leader Jeremy Corbyn and the five who brought the initial legal challenge to the High Court have said they will not seek to overturn the appeal court's decision in the Supreme Court.

The five - Christine Evangelou, Rev Edward Leir, Hannah Fordham, Chris Granger and "FM", a teenage member - have raised £93,572 in donations but said they could not afford to take the case further.

In a message posted on their crowdfunding website, Ms Fordham said: " This has been an odd, emotional-rollercoaster of a week for us all.

"Thank you for supporting us through this, it's been a huge help to see how many of you care deeply about this unfair and unjust situation.

"Unfortunately, given the costs involved in pursuing the case further (the fee for getting the case even heard at the Supreme Court is around £8,000), we have taken the decision that this is where this particular legal case has to stop.

"But the case wasn't in vain - although we didn't succeed in reclaiming votes for the 130,000 disenfranchised members, we did win in the High Court, exposing facts which have spurred important conversations about the role of the Labour Party membership and the NEC (National Executive Committee)."

Ms Fordham said the money raised would cover their legal fees and the £30,000 in costs they were ordered to pay to the NEC, which brought the case.

It is understood that the Supreme Court was preparing to hear the case on Tuesday and making urgent arrangements to pull back five justices during summer recess.

The exclusion of the new members is thought to benefit Mr Smith and Mr Corbyn's campaign team reacted furiously to the news on Friday, with John McDonnell accusing the NEC of undermining democracy.

The Labour leader's campaign team on Sunday praised the efforts of the five members who brought the case.

A Jeremy for Labour spokesman said: "The strength of solidarity shown to the five claimants campaigning for the democratic rights of their fellow Labour party members has been truly remarkable.

"It is clear that there exists a huge amount of support for Jeremy's vision of a democratic Labour Party that is open and inclusive for all, so that we can achieve a Labour government that can transform and rebuild Britain so that nowhere and no-one is left behind."

Speaking before the case was dropped, Mr Corbyn would not explicitly back the position of Labour general secretary Iain McNicol, who led the appeal.

He told the Observer: "People joined the Labour Party in order to take part in the party and were specifically told that they were able to vote in the leadership election and it was decided by the High Court that they could."

The leader went on: "We will receive a report from Iain about the process that has gone on over the last few months. And the NEC will no doubt ask him questions and he will probably give answers on it. But let's look at that when the new NEC takes over."

Asked twice if he had full confidence in Mr McNicol, Mr Corbyn repeatedly stated: "I have been happy to work with Iain McNicol since I became leader."

The Supreme Court said it would only have charged around £1,000 to get the case heard.

Ms Fordham has said it would cost around £8,000 "for getting the case even heard" but she could also be referring to lawyers' fees.

A Supreme Court spokesman said: "Decisions about proceeding with an appeal are entirely matters for the parties involved.

"However, the court's usual fee regime would not have applied in this case, due to the way in which any such application would have been fast-tracked.

"The court fees would have been closer to £1,000."

Meanwhile, deputy leader Tom Watson reiterated his claim that hard-left "entryists" are attempting to join Labour and manipulating young members to boost support for Mr Corbyn.

After Mr Watson earlier claimed "Trotsky entryists" were seeking to influence the party, Mr Corbyn told the Observer his elected deputy was talking "nonsense" because it is highly unlikely all 300,000 new members belonged to the revolutionary left.

"At no stage in anyone's most vivid imagination are there 300,000 sectarian extremists at large in the country who have suddenly descended on the Labour Party," Mr Corbyn said.

But on Sunday night Mr Watson posted what he said was fresh evidence of entryism on his Facebook page, adding in a statement: "I know Jeremy is very busy on the campaign trail and is therefore relying on others to tell him what I have said.

"To repeat again, I have never said that all our new members are Trotskyists. I have never claimed that hundreds of thousands of new joiners are revolutionary socialists and those who claim I did are attacking a straw man.

"I simply want to ensure that organisations like the Alliance for Workers Liberty, who have instructed all their members to join the Labour Party and target our youth sections for recruitment, are dealt with under our rules. It's undeniable that this is happening. AWL even published these instructions on their web site."

The five new members who dropped their legal case later issued a clarification to their estimate of the cost of bringing their case before the Supreme Court.

Ms Fordham said: "In our original statement we stated that the fee for a hearing by the Supreme Court was £8,000.

"This is incorrect and we apologise to the Supreme Court, who have clarified that the fee is £1,000 for a hearing and may be waived.

"The figure quoted was an indicated cost for the legal work required in bringing the case, not an actual fee charged by the Supreme Court. We apologise for the Supreme Court for any misunderstanding on this matter."

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