Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
10 July 2016

Jeremy Corbyn threatens legal challenge if he is kept off the ballot. Will he be?

Senior party figures believe Labour's National Executive Committee could rule that the leader requires 50 MP/MEP nominations. 

By George Eaton

From the beginning of their rebellion against Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MPs have always had a potential trump card to play: keeping him off the ballot. Legal advice to the party has stated that the leader would need the support of 50 MPs/MEPs (20 per cent of the total) to feature in any contest. When I asked a senior Labour figure yesterday whether Corbyn would require nominations, he replied: “The NEC [National Executive Committee] will ensure the rulebook is implemented.” The party’s 33-member governing body, which is expected to meet on Tuesday after Angela Eagle formally launches her challenge tomorrow, could vote to deny the leader an automatic place on the ballot. 

Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr Show suggested he knows as much. While maintaining that he would be on the ballot as of right (“I’ve taken much soundings from lawyers. There are a lot of a lawyers about”), he also vowed to launch a legal challenge if the NEC ruled against him (“I will challenge that if that is the view that they take” he said when asked). Having lost the confidence of 81 per cent of MPs and the majority of Labour’s 20 MEPs, Corbyn would struggle to achieve the 50 names he needs (though some rebels such as Lisa Nandy have backed him). But a former shadow cabinet minister told me: “There’s a majority for JC on the NEC. But one or two may feel they should uphold legal advice. This is going to end up in court either way.” 

When Eagle was interviewed by Robert Peston this morning, she made her view clear: “He will have to find the nominations”. The former shadow first secretary of state was a member of the NEC until her resignation two weeks ago. Eagle was replaced by Corbyn ally Jon Trickett, the new shadow business secretary, but the body could still find against the leader. Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and a Tom Watson ally, avoided resigning from the shadow cabinet in order to retain his NEC seat.

After Watson yesterday ended talks with trade union leaders over Corbyn’s position, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey declared: “Should there have to be a leadership election, I must warn that any attempts to keep Jeremy Corbyn, elected just ten months ago with an enormous mandate, off the ballot paper by legal means risks a lasting division in the party”. But Corbyn’s opponents will argue that they are merely upholding the party’s rule book. They will point to the precedent of 1988 when Neil Kinnock was forced to reseek nominations after being challenged by Tony Benn (a rebellion supported by Corbyn). A Labour MP derided Corbyn’s stance: “It’s all about party democracy but if the NEC don’t do so as I say then I’ll take legal action against them.” Labour’s struggle is set to move from parliament to the courts.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

THANK YOU

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up