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19 July 2016

Does Labour’s £25 voting fee discriminate against the poor?

You can vote in the Labour leadership election by paying £25. But is it right to charge? 

By Julia Rampen

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has long maintained he has the support of party members. And he has reasons to be confident. A YouGov poll found he would easily beat both Angela Eagle and Owen Smith

While the weeks since Brexit have seen the Labour Party move from ancient grudge to new mutiny, both camps agree on one thing – the path to victory means stuffing the party with the right eligible voters. Corbyn’s victory in 2015 was aided by the votes of £3 registered supporters. But this time, the National Executive Committee ruled they must pay £25 – and must register within a tight timeframe. Registration shuts at 5pm on Wednesday 20 July. 

But at a time of benefit cuts and stagnating wages, is it fair to ask Labour supporters to pay such a huge chunk of money for the privilege of a vote? Or is this a legitimate way to shut out freeloaders? Two Labour supporters set out their stalls:

For

Tom Harris, former Labour MP for Glasgow South

If you haven’t already joined as a full member, I don’t see why you should have a vote on this. A registered supporter is someone who doesn’t want to join the Labour Party. Having a fee of £3 is an invitation to disruption.

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It never used to be the case that you could join at the last minute. In fact, the freeze date was always put in place specifically to stop people joining at the last minute, because of the history of entryism in the Labour Party. We shouldn’t have registered supporters at all. But we are where we are.

It costs more than £25 to be a member of the Labour Party. There is an argument for an overhaul of the whole fee structure. But if you only pay £25 each time there is a leadership election, you are actually paying for less than full-time members. Forgive me for not having a bleeding heart. 

I know £3 certainly didn’t cover the costs of running the election. A £25 fee will – which is a good thing. The money we get from so-called registered supporters should go to helping the Labour Party. 

Against

Michael Chessum, Momentum

The fee was raised partially on the grounds that last year, the number of people joining out strain on staff capacity at Party HQ – so the rise is designed to put people off. Then there’s the question of who it puts off: mainly young people and working class people. A £25 fee is 44 per cent of your weekly income if you’re under 25 and on jobseekers’ allowance. We know from polling data last year that, contrary to the stereotypes wheeled out by many on the right of the party, Corbyn supporters are disproportionately likely to be on low incomes, and therefore unable to afford the £25 fee. 

But it’s not just the price, it’s the whole dynamic of the contest. Almost a third of the party’s membership will have to pay the fee because they’ve been disenfranchised by the six month freeze date – if they even know about the rules in time to pay. Potential supporters will have just 48 hours right at the beginning of the contest – with little publicity from the Party having got out there – to sign up. 

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