A British court yesterday barred new members of the opposition Labour Party from voting in a leadership election, upholding an appeal by the party’s executive committee against an earlier ruling.
The appeal court’s ruling allows the committee to deny a vote to people who had been Labour members for less than six months by July 12, when the leadership contest was announced.
Both supporters and opponents of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had encouraged new members to join the party and vote in the election, but many analysts believe the barring of up to 130,000 members could harm Corbyn more than his sole challenger, Owen Smith.
The high court had ruled in favour of five new Labour members who challenged the executive committee’s decision on Monday.
Left-winger Corbyn, 67, has been forced to join a contest to remain in power after a revolt against his leadership by most of Labour’s 220 lawmakers.
Labour critics claim he is unsuited to lead the party into a general election and blame him for a half-hearted, ultimately unsuccessful campaign to keep Britain in the European Union ahead of an in-out referendum.
But Corbyn retains strong backing from several large trade unions and a majority of Labour members.
He won the Labour leadership in September with almost 60% of the 422,000 votes cast, beating three other candidates.
A final result from the new contest is due to be announced on September 24.
The shadow health secretary, Diane Abbott, a staunch Jeremy Corbyn supporter, has dismissed suggestions that the Labour party is being infiltrated by hard-left activists, saying the claims are being peddled by “people within the Westminster bubble”.
Abbott said the Labour deputy leader Tom Watson’s claims that the party was vulnerable to a takeover by Trotskyist entryists were a “distraction”.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether Trotskyists or members of other parties, including the Socialist party, the successor to Militant, should be allowed to return to the party, Abbott said: “Of course not. We have rules against it. This ‘reds under the beds’ narrative is a complete distraction.”
Abbott said that in the 1980s when the then Labour leader Neil Kinnock banned groups such as Militant from being members of the party, she had cautioned against “witch-hunts against ordinary people on the left”.
She denied that campaigns by Corbyn at the time suggested the incumbent leader would welcome them back now.
“The problem is Westminster elites refuse to accept the fact that quite ordinary people, young people that left the party over Blair, are coming back to Labour in their tens of thousands because they actually believe in what Jeremy is saying,” she said.
Abbott was asked about warnings from Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, that Labour was in danger of becoming the new nasty party.
She replied: “It’s odd Dave Prentis has said that because actually what’s happened is Unison have consulted their members and they’ve decided to support Jeremy, so it’s odd that he says something negative.
“When you go out into the country, ordinary party members will tell you Jeremy has made them believe in politics again. People should address that and see why people think that. Not rehashing stories from the 70s about Bolsheviks with snow on their boots.”
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