In Labour’s summer of court battles it’s now 2-0 to Jeremy Corbyn. After a judge last month ruled in favour of his automatic inclusion on the leadership ballot, party members have now won their bid to ensure new joiners are allowed to vote. The party’s National Executive Committee had imposed a six month freeze date, preventing those who signed up after 12 January from participating. It was a decision that thrilled Corbyn’s opponents, who believed that the exclusion of around 130,000 from the contest could deliver them victory (polling showed most were pro-leader). “It’s game on!” a senior figure told me at the time.
New members were outraged by the ban, pointing to statements on Labour’s website guaranteeing them a vote if they joined. Five of them launched a crowd-funded court challenge and, against the expectations of most, they’ve won. “At the time each of the Claimants joined the Party,” the ruling stated, “it was the common understanding as reflected in the Rule Book that, if they joined the Party prior to the election process commencing, as new members they would be entitled to vote in any leadership contest. That was the basis upon which each Claimant joined the party; and the basis upon which they each entered into the contract between members inter se.”
The court’s decision won’t significantly change the outcome of the contest. Corbyn was already on course to beat Owen Smith by a comfortable margin, with more support among party members (as CLP nominations show) and among registered supporters (who were permitted to sign up for £25). Since many of those originally excluded from the contest took the latter route, the electorate won’t be dramatically changed by the decision. But Corbyn now has a strong chance of winning by an even bigger margin than in 2015 (when he won 60 per cent of the vote).
Labour has been given the right to appeal in a bid to avoid having to refund those members who paid £25. But some of Corbyn’s opponents believe the party should never have acted as it did. Rather than shrinking the selectorate, they argued that the rebels instead needed to expand it – by recruiting thousands of new supporters (as Corbyn did last summer). As I revealed in a recent column, an unpublished poll by GQR found that 10 per cent of the public would pay £3 to participate in a leadership election (with a plurality opposed to Corbyn). But by raising the fee to £25 and giving supporters just two days to sign up, the leader’s opponents denied themselves this option. But whatever the strategy, the problem for the rebels remains the same: Corbyn can get more people to vote for him than they can.