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New Labour wrangle as party mounts legal appeal against court ruling on right to vote

By Sam Lister

Published 09/08/2016

Labour leadership rivals Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Labour leadership rivals Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Christine Evangelou. Photo: John Aston/PA Wire

Labour is appealing against a High Court ruling that said new party members should have the right to vote in its leadership election.

Judges ruled in favour of five supporters who accused the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) of unlawfully "freezing" them out, even though they had "paid their dues".

Christine Evangelou (41), a fitness instructor from north London who was one of the five, said she believed most of the new members wanted to help party leader Jeremy Corbyn "take the party back to its roots".

But officials said Labour would mount a legal challenge to "defend the NEC's right" to uphold the party's rules, and the appeal is expected to be heard on Thursday.

The High Court ruling plunged the party's leadership race into chaos, and Labour's procedures committee held a hastily arranged conference call to decide how to respond.

Mr Corbyn's allies had urged the party not to pursue an appeal, claiming members' money was being squandered on stopping them from voting.

Bookies were quick to further slash the odds of Mr Corbyn winning the contest following the legal ruling, which is expected to boost his support.

Rival Owen Smith insisted "of course it's possible" that he could still win the contest, but called for the election timetable to be changed.

John McDonnell, who chairs Mr Corbyn's leadership campaign, claimed the decision [to appeal] had been taken by a "small clique" that opposed the Labour leader and warned it could cost the party hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The shadow chancellor said: "This is a deeply disappointing decision by a small clique of people behind closed doors, many of whom have openly expressed their opposition to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, who are now trying to use Labour members' money to fund what they think is a further attack on Jeremy.

"However, this is just an attack on the basic democratic rights of members in our party."

General secretary Iain McNicol faces being ousted if the party loses its legal bid, as the bitter war between Labour's rival factions becomes more entrenched.

A senior party source said: "If Labour loses the appeal, the position of Iain McNicol becomes untenable."

In July, a judge rejected a challenge to Labour's decision to automatically put Mr Corbyn on the ballot paper.

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