The NEC’s Second Ruling May Be Illegal
July 13, 2016
by Martin Odoni
Even as I was finishing up writing last night’s blogpost, the outcome of the Labour National Executive Committee’s deliberations, over whether an incumbent can stand in a Leadership contest without nominations, was being announced. They ruled by a vote of 18 to 14, to the delight of most party members up and down the country, that he can. Jeremy Corbyn will therefore be on the ballot of the upcoming contest against Angela Eagle no matter how many – or how few – nominations he gets from the Parliamentary Labour Party.
However, the ‘Red Tory’ faction on the committee, being the sort of people they are, could not resist a final sting-in-the-tail; in their terms, that always means a dirty trick. This took the form of a second vote that was not announced on the meeting’s agenda, and not even called until a number of committee members, all of them Corbyn supporters, had left the building.
The motion was to bar any members who have joined the Labour Party since February 2016 from voting in the Leadership contest. The motion was passed.
This vote could be unsustainable, and even illegal.
Firstly, the possibly unsustainable; as the discussion of the motion was not placed on the agenda beforehand, and was called without any notice or forewarning only after some committee members had left, it is highly questionable whether any decision made in such an underhand manner can be seen as representative of the committee’s deliberations.
Secondly, the possible illegality; please click the link here. It will take you to the page on the Labour Party’s website promoting membership to potential newcomers. Check the section, roughly halfway down the page, marked, Where could my membership take me? It lists off some of the benefits available to people who join the Labour Party.
“You’ll be eligible to vote in leadership elections”.
That sentence has been on that page for a long time, and is still there even now. As the page is on Labour’s own website, and links directly to the page for people to join up, that has to count as a binding pledge.
All of which means that last night’s motion by the Labour NEC to exclude new members from the leadership vote was an explicit violation-of-contract. That means the move is probably illegal, and Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, and indeed any Labour members who have signed up to the party since February, should immediately start looking into getting solicitors involved. (If the party wishes to create such a new rule to apply to new members, it may do so, but it cannot be applied ‘retroactively’ to members who have signed up at any time while that pledge has been on the party website.)
In the end, I doubt the dirty trick will make all that much difference on its own, as Corbyn clearly still has overwhelming support in the national party. Eagle has very little hope of competing effectively against him, and even the newly-announced candidacy of Owen Smith is likely to do little better. Furthermore, there are already ways being developed for new members to get around the ruling, including via membership of Unite The Union – subject to confirmation and certain conditions.
But last night’s dirty move is still an example of how vile the ‘Red Tory’ faction of the Labour Party become whenever democratic or legal processes do not give them the outcomes they want. These people are only in favour of democracy when it arrives at the decision they already made beforehand, and they only like laws that allow them to obstruct the alternative.
For this reason, there may well be more dirty tricks and contrived obstacles ahead before the contest is over.