Decisions by Labour’s National Executive Committee this week have been viewed by the party as a whole as – with one notable exception – wrong.
Yes, Jeremy Corbyn gets to be on leadership election ballot paper, and members are grateful for that.
But they are scandalised by attempts to ensure that Mr Corbyn gets as few votes as possible, with measures put in place to limit the contribution of his supporters.
As a Labour branch secretary, I have been contacted by many members, all of whom have been deeply concerned by recent developments.
On their behalf, I have written the following letter to Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, and to NEC chair Paddy Lillis.
Dear Mr McNicol/Mr Lillis,
I am writing to express my deep concern over recent decisions taken by the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, restricting the rights of members to vote in the forthcoming leadership election; and about other matters that have arisen around the election. One of these decisions seems actionable in law; others seem clearly intended to prevent people from voting for one of the candidates. These decisions therefore raise questions about whether the Labour Party currently has regard for democracy.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the page on the Labour Party’s website encouraging people to join the party stated very clearly that new members would be entitled to take part in leadership elections, right up until the decision was made – on July 12 – to restrict the upcoming election so that only members who joined before January 12 could take part. It was only after the decision had been made that the site was changed to say new members could not take part in the current election.
If the NEC intends to go through with this decision, then more than 130,000 new members have been missold their memberships and the party has taken an alleged £4.5 million fraudulently.
My understanding is that the decision was made to lessen the administrative burden on the party, but let me ask you this: Which is the greater burden – accommodating new members who joined up to July 12, or defending the party against more than 130,000 legal cases for breach of contract and false advertising?
Perhaps worst of all is the breach of good faith with members. Many of these people will have joined in order to support Jeremy Corbyn and, notwithstanding any explanation you provide, they will only see this decision as an attempt to deny democracy and make it easier for his opponents to defeat him.
I understand that the decision was made after Jeremy Corbyn and two of his supporters on the NEC had left the meeting; that it was not on the agenda and that they therefore had no reason to believe any further business would be carried out behind their backs. In such circumstances, it seems to be that this decision has no validity at all. Were Mr Corbyn and the others told that this decision would be taken while they were away? If not, then, again, the NEC has put itself in a very actionable position.
It seems clear to me that the cut-off date for voting eligibility should have been July 12, the date when the decision was made. I would be interested to read your views on why it is better to face legal action from angry new members – and possibly even from the Labour leadership.
Are you hoping that most of them are too poor to take you to court? This would also raise serious concerns about the decision-making at the top of the party.
Members who were snubbed by the NEC’s decision on July 12 took heart when they were told that registered supporters could still vote in the election – but hopes were quickly dashed by the revelation that the fee attached to this status is rising by more than 700 per cent – from £3 to £25.
It seems clear that this is an attempt to price poorer members of the party – those more likely to support Mr Corbyn – out of being able to vote. Of course, richer members – those more likely to support the challengers – will have little difficulty stumping up the cash. This is clearly prejudicial and likely to skew the election result. Did the NEC not consider this? Or is it the aim?
Either way, you are selling votes – and that isn’t democracy.
Worse still is the fact that people have only a small window of opportunity to register to become supporters – between July 18 and 20. I have not seen details of how this will work – is it attached to a website, in which case those without the internet will be automatically barred (another blow against the poor), and the process will be subject to server overloads and breakdowns (as we witnessed with voter registration for the EU referendum)? How many obstacles will you put in the way of people who genuinely want the best for the Labour Party?
Considering all the reasons for objecting to the affiliation process as it has been changed by the NEC, do you not think it would be better at least to scrap the price hike before July 18? At least that way you will have gone some way towards fairness. Otherwise, I believe the result of this election may face legal challenge.
We also have the issue of membership of affiliated organisations – in which members who have been denied the vote by normal means may regain it by joining, say, Unite’s community programme. I understand the NEC’s procedures committee shut down this route yesterday (July 14), after many of the members who had been snubbed by the main NEC’s decision on July 12 had already joined. So your decisions have led these people to waste their money.
Not only that, but there is also a health issue here. An acquaintance of mine contacted me today as follows: “As someone who only joined in June I cannot vote. I also joined Unite – cannot vote.
“Rang CAB to complain told me to complain to NEC to put it in writing to them & send recorded delivery. CAB gave me a complaint number.
“I was elated JC got on ballot then hopes dashed that I can’t vote then hopes raised joined unite dashed again. I am only on a pension & feel ripped off.
“Hubby is full member & can vote he came home from work last night to me ranting & raving about how unfair it is & getting so worked up, caused me to have another TIA mini stroke. Hubby said he would pay the £25 as it meant so much to me.
“This is SO WRONG it is unbelievable.”
This person had a stroke because of your decision.
It is fortunate for you that a TIA – transient ischaemic attack, caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain, is nothing like as serious as a full stroke. The effects often last only a few minutes and fully resolve within 24 hours.
However: That is just one person who happens to be an acquaintance of mine. How many more may have suffered more serious effects? And how do you justify what has happened to them?
This is a vitally important matter for hundreds of thousands of UK citizens. They know the future of their entire country – their very way of life – depends on the result of this election, but it seems the organisation running it is playing games.
Let’s discuss some more of these games: I am told that Brighton and Hove CLP has been suspended for holding a meeting at which members voted to support Jeremy Corbyn as leader – before the cut-off date for CLP meetings. In contrast, Owen Smith tells us that the officers of his CLP have supported his candidacy for the leadership, in a statement made after the cut-off date. As Pontypridd CLP’s officers met on a matter that is not exempt from the ban, why have they not been penalised and their decision voided? As Brighton and Hove met before the cut-off date, why has that CLP been penalised?
I am the secretary of one of the party’s branches. We had a special meeting last Sunday (July 10, before the cut-off date) at which an overwhelming majority (87 per cent) voted in support of Mr Corbyn’s leadership. We had hoped the CLP would support it as an emergency motion in our regular meeting tomorrow (at the time of writing; July 16) but then the moratorium on CLP meetings came down from the NEC so that can’t happen. My branch still wants its support to be registered. Can we not do so without triggering the wrath of the NEC?
And what of the suggestion that party officials are trawling through the social media, looking for the words “traitor”, “scab” and “scum” being used by members – and then banning those members from voting.
Why not “Trots”, “rabble” and “dogs”, to quote some well-publicised alternative? Perhaps because that would stop certain MPs from having their vote?
(Incidentally, isn’t it true that “Trots”, being a condensation of “Trotskyites”, is a reference to Communism? But aren’t the opponents of Mr Corbyn behaving more like Communists themselves, in wanting to restrict the members’ choice only to those candidates who have been – for want of a better word – approved?)
I sincerely hope that the NEC has not authorised any such activity. It is prejudicial and is almost certainly likely to lead to mistakes. I’m sure any investigators would not be going through every single comment on their own, but would be using software that doesn’t distinguish between innocent use of these words and otherwise. Banning somebody on such a flimsy pretext would again put the party on extremely uncertain ground.
In summary, it is clear that some of the decisions taken by the NEC over the last few days are not supportable. They undermine democracy and give richer members who are likely to vote for candidates opposing Jeremy Corbyn precedence over the others.
I am very interested to read your reasons for the actions I have listed above. How do you justify these things?
May I appeal to you, also, to reverse these decisions and replace them with options that are sensible and democratic; and may I prevail on you not to resort to such underhand tactics as making decisions when some of the decision-makers are out of the room!
Labour grassroots members are in open revolt over a series of restrictions imposed by the party’s ruling national executive over the leadership contest – with some branches holding unofficial meetings in defiance of a ban imposed nationally earlier this week.
Labour branches in London, the Midlands, Liverpool and elsewhere all defied the order and organised impromptu events, reflecting unhappiness in some parts of the party’s membership at the decision taken at the same meeting that confirmed that Jeremy Corbyn would be on the leadership ballot.
After Corbyn’s candidacy was validated, the NEC ruled that only those who had been members for more than six months would be allowed to vote, while new supporters wishing to cast their vote would be given two days to sign up as registered supporters. They will have to pay £25, far more than the £3 many Corbyn-backers paid in the contest last year.
Pro-Corbyn members are also protesting over the suspension of all constituency party meetings until the election for leader is over at the end of September. In Wallasey, the Merseyside constituency of Angela Eagle – one of the two challengers to Corbyn – members booked a hall for a meeting of the New Brighton branch on Wednesday night. It went ahead as an informal meeting of Labour members rather than an official event.
At the end of the two-hour meeting, a vote of no confidence in Eagle was passed by 54 to nine. In a second vote, they unanimously rejected the £25 membership fee, which one of those in the hall denounced as “a surcharge on democracy”.
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