Jeremy Corbyn has received an apparent boost in his battle to remain the Labour leader in the UK after a British High Court ruling said new party members should be allowed to vote in the leadership election.
A judge ruled on Monday in favour of five supporters who accused Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) of unlawfully “freezing” them out of the contest despite them having “paid their dues”.
But party officials intend to mount a legal challenge in order to “defend the NEC’s right” to uphold Labour’s rules, with an appeal hearing expected to take place on Thursday.
The NEC had decided that full members would not be able to vote if they had not had at least six months’ continuous membership up to July 12.
To gain the right to vote, members were given a window of opportunity, between July 18 and 20, to become “registered supporters” on payment of an additional fee of £25. Non-members were given the same opportunity.
The High Court ruling has been viewed by many as a major boost for Mr Corbyn. There has been speculation that the majority of new party members are likely to have joined in order to back Mr Corbyn as he seeks to fend off challenger Owen Smith.
Bookmakers seemed to agree, immediately moving to slash the odds of Mr Corbyn winning the contest in the wake of the court’s decision.
Mr Corbyn’s allies urged the party not to appeal against the ruling, stating that members’ money should not be used to try to stop them from voting.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has rejected the idea that allies of Mr Corbyn support the ruling only because it could benefit the incumbent.
Mr McDonnell, chairman of Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign, said when people joined they were told “very clearly” they would be able to vote in the leadership contest and “to deny them that democratic right flies against all the traditions of our party”.
He insisted his support for the ruling was not because it could improve Mr Corbyn’s chances of victory.
He told Channel 4 News: “It’s not a matter of whether it suits me or not because we don’t know which way these members are going to vote – no-one knows that.”
Mr Corbyn told BBC Newsnight that the court judgment seemed “very clear” that all party members should be allowed to vote.
“Surely that has to be the right decision,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Smith has stressed “of course it’s possible” that he could still win the contest, but he called for the timetable of the election to be changed.
Mr McDonnell had earlier claimed the decision to appeal had
been taken by a “small clique” who opposed the Labour leader.
There has also been speculation that general secretary Iain McNicol could face being ousted if the party loses its appeal as divisions within the party deepen still further.
A senior Labour source said: “If Labour loses the appeal, the position of Iain McNicol becomes untenable.”
The decision came on the same day that a slate of left-leaning candidates was elected on to the NEC – a development which could potentially help strengthen the Labour leader’s grip on the party.
Six spaces for representatives from constituency Labour parties were filled with all six winners deemed to be on the left of the party.
Comedian Eddie Izzard failed to secure a seat.
Rev. Edward Leir, one of the five members who won the legal challenge, said Labour’s decision to appeal was “madness”.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “This wasn’t a spurious action, it’s not been politically motivated. It’s been about people holding on to their promises.”
Mr Leir revealed he had campaigned for David Cameron in the 2010 election but had been won over by Mr Corbyn.
“My heart leads towards Corbyn. In my youth for two decades I was a supporter of the Conservative Party,” he said. “I actually canvassed for them the election before last. Found myself deeply disappointed with the direction they were going in and surprisingly found myself really agreeing with the way Jeremy Corbyn was trying to bring change to politics.”