by Martin Odoni

FOREWORD ADDED 16-7-2016: I have concluded that this is not a false alarm, as mentioned in the first paragraph below, as there are ways to interpret the information to suggest that the deadline mentioned does extend to the party leader. But it is a grey area.

Please see the second update at the foot of the page.

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This news is in its infancy, and it may prove to be a false alarm, but the word is circulating on social media that the challenges to Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader by Angela Eagle and Owen Smith may – MAY have broken Labour Party rules.

The violation appears to have been identified initially by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. The Campaign has highlighted that, according to the Labour Rulebook, there is a deadline imposed by the party’s National Executive Committee each year for nominations to the NEC, party treasurer, auditors, Conference Arrangements Committee, the National Policy Forum and the National Constitutional Committee.

That deadline explicitly extends to nominations for the positions of party leader and deputy leader.

According to CLPD; –

Angela Eagle and Owen Smith have missed the deadline for getting nominations for leader, and the rules say they can’t stand. Chapter 3, Clause III, sub-clause (2)(E) of the Labour Party rulebook 2016 requires nominations to be made by a closing date set by the NEC. The NEC decided closing dates through its Organisation Sub-committee at its 20 October 2015 meeting, and set the deadline for ‘national officers’ election nominations as 24 June. The rulebook says the leader and deputy are national officers. So it appears that Eagle and Smith missed the deadline for leader nominations by more than two weeks. Eagle was on the NEC when they set the date, so she’s got no excuse.

Below is a screencap from page 17 of the 2013 Labour Party rulebook, confirming such deadlines do have a clear, written precedent; –

Untitled

As the CLPD mention above, they understand that the deadline selected by the NEC for 2016 was the 24th of June.

Angela Eagle did not formally announce her challenge to Jeremy Corbyn until the 11th July, and Owen Smith did not announce his challenge until the 13th of July. If – if – all of this holds good, it could well mean that both Eagle and Smith missed the deadline, and are thus ineligible to stand for party leader this year.

Now there are several notes of caution I need to recommend here before anyone gets too excited; –

Firstly, the deadline date mentioned of 24th June is only a whisper, I have not been able so far to find a copy of the minutes of the October meeting in order to verify that it is correct.

Second, the rulebook for 2015 is the most up-to-date version I can find. It too mentions the same rule, verbatim, see section E here; –

2015 nominations rule

But as yet, I am unable to find a copy of the 2016 rulebook the CLPD refer to. (I am fairly sure it would not have been published yet, as it first needs ratifying by the Party Conference in September. It may have been a typing error. That would mean however that the 2015 rule is up-to-date, and therefore stands.)

Third, the rulebook does not stipulate any firm bar against any candidate standing after the deadline i.e. it may be possible to interpret it as a ‘guideline’ instead of as a rule.

Fourth, the rulebook does not set a deadline against challenging, it only sets one against submitting nominations for the leadership. It is just possible that Eagle (though probably not Smith) may have submitted her nominations to the General Secretary before the cut-off, but did not commit to challenging until this week, which is not forbidden by any of the rules.

It is far from confirmed as yet, but if I were Jeremy Corbyn, I would certainly be looking into this with considerable interest.

Watch this space, I will add any updates below, after this has been verified.

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UPDATE 14:30 on 15th July: Thanks to Twitter user ‘Radical Chic‘ for pointing me in the right direction; the 2016 rulebook has been published, it turns out, and can be viewed here. The relevant section can be found on page 17, and lo and behold, it still reads; –

Nominations for leader and deputy leader, the NEC, treasurer, auditors, Conference
Arrangements Committee, National Policy Forum and NCC shall be sent in writing on the form provided to the General Secretary at the offices of the Party by the closing date agreed by the NEC.
In other words, it has not been revised, and the rule definitely still stands. The important questions that remain therefore are whether we can find evidence that the NEC sub-committee really did post a deadline of 24th June for nominations, and whether that has been formally reversed subsequently. We still need to be very clear about this though, it might all prove to be nothing.

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UPDATE 22.55 on 16th July: Thanks to Gary Peerless – see comments section below – for providing me with a link to the minutes of the October meeting from last year. They can be seen on the Grass Roots Labour website.

Here is a screencap; –

These minutes seem to indicate that the 2016 leadership challenges against Jeremy Corbyn are illegitimate.

Minutes from the Labour NEC’s Organisation Sub-Committee meeting on 20th October 2015. They do appear to impose a deadline for nominations to the Labour leadership, which Angela Eagle and Owen Smith seem to have missed.

The organisation committee’s minutes were taken by Ann Black, and are somewhat brief. But perusal has led me to conclude that the suggestion that there was a deadline set for leadership nominations is possible, but not explicit.

The crucial part to which the CLPD appear to be referring is below; –

Some other key dates: the deadline for conference delegates would be 24 June 2016, and this would also apply for nominations for the NEC constituency, local government and parliamentary places, the treasurer, auditors, the conference arrangements committee and the national constitutional committee.

This passage does mention the 24th June deadline, but does not mention leadership or deputy leadership nominations as such – not explicitly.

However, as is so often the case with Labour Party official documents, the wording is somewhat ambiguous. The term ‘parliamentary places’ potentially covers the leadership of the party. I am pretty sure that the meaning is parliamentary places on the National Executive Committee i.e. ‘NEC’ is the prefix for all three categories, and ‘places’ is the suffix for all three. Hence: ‘NEC constituency places’, ‘NEC local government places’, and ‘NEC parliamentary places’.

Now, people might cite that as grounds for dismissing the objection, saying that places on the NEC are quite separate from the party leadership. But to do so is to ignore a very important detail; within the present structure of the Labour Party, the leader of the party automatically has a seat on the NEC. So the reference to NEC parliamentary places does appear, on balance, to include Jeremy Corbyn’s position.

It is a grey area, but the case could well be sustainable, unless there was a formal extension put in place before the deadline passed – of that, I am unaware. I have searched quite extensively on search engines using various terminology, but can only find references to a deadline extension for nominations in the leadership contest back in 2010, not for this year.

I think Corbyn and his allies should at least look into raising the matter with the NEC.