Britain: Widely supported Corbyn can stand in Labour leadership ballot, but NEC limits members right to vote

July 12, 2016
Corbyn at Durham Miners' Gala
Corbyn came at the Durham Miners' Gala on July 9.

British Labour Jeremy Corbyn's name should automatically be on the ballot paper in the Labour Party's leadership contest, the party's national executive committee (NEC) ruled on July 12.

The socialist leader is facing a challenge from Blairite MP Angela Eagle. Recently, 172 Labour MPs passed a motion of no confidence in the veteran leftist, sparking large rallies and mass meetings across the country in his support.

Polls indicate Corbyn should easily win re-election, causing his opponents to seek to exclude him from the ballot on a technicality -- arguing that Corbyn needed to be nominated by at least 51 MPs to stand. However, Corbyn's supporters and an 18-14 majority on the NEC said Labour rules allowed Corbyn to automatically appear on the ballot as the incumbent.

"The NEC has agreed that as the incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn will go forward onto the ballot without requiring nominations from the Parliamentary Labour Party and the European Parliamentary Labour Party," a party spokesman said in a statement. "All other leadership candidates will require nominations from 20 percent of the PLP and EPLP."

It is possible Corbyn's opponents will take legal action in a bid to overturn the ruling. As it stands, the decision boosts Corbyn's chances of resisting an attempt to oust him, but could be subject to a legal challenge from opponents who say he should have to gather support from 51 lawmakers — something he may struggle to do.

Right-wing Labour MPs initiated the current crisis when they called for a no confidence vote against Corbyn following the Brexit vote, blaming him for the “leave” victory and for not doing enough to campaign for the “remain” camp.

While many of his shadow cabinet members resigned and abandoned him, grassroots supporters have continued their support for Corbyn.

However, the NEC also passed a motion that restricts the rights of members to vote -- specifically denying the right of any member who has joined in the past six months to vote unless they pay a new £25 charge. This new charge increases the price from £3 for anyone not a Labour member to become a Labour "supporter" and vote in the election.

This motion, reportedly passed after several Corbyn supporters on the NEC had left the meeting, seems aimed at the tens of thousands of new members who have signed up in the recent period to support Corbyn. Since the current attempts to unseat Corbyn began in late June, more than 100,000 new members have joined the party, with most believed to back Corbyn.

Corbyn has received support from a range of major unions and rank-and-file supporters, with the pro-Corbyn grassroots group Momentum organising demonstrations and meetings around the country.

A sign of the depths of support for Corbyn came at the Durham Miners' Gala on July 9. Morning Star Online said Corbyn received a rapturous welcome from a crowd of more than 150,000 at the event, demanding he stays on as party leader.

Video: Jeremy Corbyn - The Durham Miners' Gala. Official Jeremy Corbyn Channel.

In a swipe at Eagle's leadership bid, speaker after speaker praised Corbyn's determination to remain as leader and the legitimacy of his position.

During speeches at the Gala, Labour MPs defended Mr Corbyn and suggested Eagle was just another Establishment MP. They said that the leadership fight was no more than one against Blairite MPs who don't represent the will of the party's grassroots.

East Leeds Labour MP Richard Burgon, praised for his staunch support of Mr Corbyn, said to cheers: “The Establishment is coming out in force and is going into overdrive.

“When you are on the verge of making history, the Establishment will try to crush you. But you cannot kill an ideology. You cannot kill solidarity.”

Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner told the Gala: “This is a battle against the Parliamentary Labour Party.

“Jeremy Corbyn does not have enough MPs to fill all the positions on the front bench. They are doing two jobs. It has been a critical time. But I tell you here that Jeremy Corbyn has measured up to task.”

The Gala field was surrounded by dozens of union banners, many from former union lodges of the Durham coalfield, which had been marched to the venue, most preceded by a brass band, and all followed by ex-miners, their families and supporters.

Union general secretaries also expressed solidarity with Mr Corbyn. GMB general secretary Tim Roache said to cheers: “Let us back him. Let us get behind him, and walk tall in solidarity.”

Trade Union Congress leader Frances O'Grady insisted that “now is the time when all working people must stand together” following the EU referendum that has seen a “radical racist right” emerge.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis added: “We in Unison nominated Jeremy Corbyn, campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn and want to support him as our elected leader.

“What we want more than anything is a united Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.”

Speaking to BBC's Andrew Marr Show the next day, the Labour leader said he had “reached out in a way no other leader has” in an attempt to unite all parts of the party.

He insisted it would be “irresponsible” for him to quit given the mandate he won in September from Labour members -- when he was elected with a record-breaking 59% of the vote.

At the policy conference of Britain's largest trade union, Unite, on July 11, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey reiterated his union's strong support for Corbyn.

McCluskey said those seeking to oust Corbyn would be “branded forever with the mark of infamy for betraying their party and their country”.

The Unite general secretary said MPs who had launched a “cowardly attack” on the Labour leader had “let the Conservatives off scot-free” and created “the mother of all splits” when the party could have seized the post-Brexit agenda.

He said MPs had put their “selfish personal interests first when the times called for solidarity and statesmanship”, asking: “Did you give 30 seconds thought as to how this would help the workers at Tata, fighting for a future made still more uncertain by Brexit?”

McCulskey said: “This was an attempted political lynching designed to bully and bludgeon Jeremy Corbyn, this deeply decent and kind man, out of the job he was elected to do.

“This is not just about Jeremy Corbyn and his position. The coup has snowballed into a wrecking operation against the Labour Party itself, destroying it at least temporarily as a parliamentary force.”

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