Peter Kenyon sets out the case for resetting the freeze date to Thursday 14 July

Prepare for the worst. The Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has a poor track record when it comes to acting responsibly and judiciously. Excluded from leading on policy-making by Tony Blair twenty years ago, it might have focussed on taking care of the money, membership and building a campaigning machine capable of outflanking the mainstream media (MSM). As we saw last week at its Special Meeting it descended into political and administrative machinations, behind the cloak of the Party Rule book. Corbyn supporters celebrated the 18-14 vote in favour of the Leader being on a ballot paper in the event of a challenge. But then the Leader and others left the meeting allowing the rule-bound remainers to disenfranchise over 150,000 people from voting in the expected Leadership election, and then set a Registered Supporter fee of £25 up from £3 last year.

 

The NEC usually meets on a bi-monthly schedule, and tomorrow is the next in that cycle. Senior members are aware legal action is pending to challenge its decisions last week. The key issue is mis-selling membership. Until Thursday morning 14 July, the Labour Party website was encouraging people to join, admittedly among other things, to take part in Leadership elections. As a former member of the NEC, I’m more familiar than most with the Rule Book, an acceptance period of up to 12 weeks post-payment, and a six-month freeze date for voting rights in Leadership and electoral candidate selection. But as many more know, the acceptance period has been ignored by National Membership administration for years, and the NEC has waived the freeze-date requirements in the last two leadership elections, namely; 2010 and 2015.

 

Based on past experience, the NEC will await legal developments. Leader Jeremy Corbyn has already set out his case for a rethink. Corbyn told BBC1’s Sunday Politics that he was hopeful that the changes would be overturned, calling the £25 figure “quite high and not really reasonable”.“There’s going to be some quite intense discussions over the next few days, I suspect, and I hope our party officials and our national executive will see sense on this and recognise that those people that have freely given of their time and their money to join the Labour party should be welcomed in and given the opportunity to take part in this crucial debate, whichever way they decide to vote,” he said. Adding: “I’m hoping there will be an understanding that it’s simply not very fair to say to people that joined the party in the last six months that ‘sorry, your participation is no longer welcome, as we’re having a leadership contest’.”

 

In contract law there appears to be a more straightforward case, the Labour Party encouraged people to join without any qualification as to eligibility to vote in a Leadership election. Full stop. So who is responsible? Every page on the Labour Party website carries the words: ‘Promoted by Iain McNicol on behalf of the Labour Party both at Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QT’.

 

McNicol is acting on behalf of the NEC. The NEC that should accept the 12 January 2016 freeze date is wrong morally, politically and legally. Even if recourse to m’Lord of the judiciary is frowned upon in Labour Party circles, the NEC should not need to be ‘threatened’ with legal action in order to behave judiciously.

 

The Labour Party’s raison d’etre is to fight for fairness and rights. Its NEC needs to be encouraged to think and behave politically and impartially. Instead, we witnessed an unedifying spectacle last week in which over 150,000 paid up members were disenfranchised, and then confronted with extortion if they wanted to vote in the leadership election – pay another £25 to vote between 5pm this evening and 5pm on Wednesday. By the way, as any one with an ounce of technical savvy might wonder, did anyone ask if the Labour Party’s website can cope? Is there any proper oversight of the Party’s web and social media presence? In the light of recent developments it is not unreasonable to conclude: No. So that’s another reason for the NEC to put its hands up and admit the whole business of administering a leadership election went awry last week, in what was evidently an emotionally charged occasion.

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In the cool light of Tuesday’s meeting, there is a powerful case for the NEC to recognise its broader responsibilities – including the protection and enhancement of the Labour Party ‘brand’ as the political party best placed to represent the interests of the majority of people living in the UK for a better life, in a better world.

 

Questioning people’s motives for joining the Labour Party is a mug’s game. None of us can know. Staffing the Party with people who don’t trust members is lunacy. What we have learned since June last year is that one man has proved himself capable of attracting members paying the full rate in larger numbers than any other politician in living memory, not once but twice; first in the summer of 2015, and again when under threat from a faction in the PLP in the summer of 2016. (I have specifically omitted supporters – because we don’t know – yet.)

 

If the plotters in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) don’t see members as being essential to the Party’s future, then that’s sad (to put it politely). I can’t think of any other antidote to the MSM than people talking and engaging with friends and neighbours.

 

Dealing with registered supporter recruitment tomorrow will be trickier. Sign up will be underway. So if the consensus is to go ahead at a lower fee, then partial refunds will have to be administered – honour restored (sort of) all round. Personally, I found the idea advanced last week that the Party was obliged to recruit registered supporters because its in the Rule somewhat curious – had the NEC forgotten it waived the freeze date rule in 2010 and 2015. The NEC has been caught out playing politics with its greatest assets – its members. It is no secret that are major problems between the Leader and the majority of the PLP. But very few members have any idea as the true nature of those issues. In current circumstances, they cannot be sorted out through a leadership election. With the treachery in the PLP for the last nine months, no-one can seriously claim Corbyn is unelectable in the General Election, he hasn’t been given a chance to reach out properly.

 

What is beyond question is there is no-one else in the PLP with Corbyn’s appeal to a wider political public. Restoring the Party’s reputation as the beacon for those people who can carry Labour’s message far and wide should start with that NEC meeting tomorrow. Reset the freeze date to 14 July.

2 COMMENTS

  1. As we now know (29th July) the legal action was on whether the NEC was right to include Corbyn, and it failed. It is bizarre that the leadership election was triggered, and even more bizarre that the current leader was threatened with exclusion. Had this happened, Owen Smith would be leader and the party would be in turmoil. The Judge saved us.

    However the issue Peter raised was not reconsidered, as the freeze dates were in the rule book and no one wanted to challenge them. But what that happened was even more bizarre. In the event huge numbers of people joined in the 48 hour time slot, paying £25 presumably to upgrade from £3 to £25 though it is rumoured some who joined in the last six months for one assumes the full whack (£47) paying another £25.

    If would be good to know the figures on this. Those who can pay £47 plus £25 are not poor. And the huge number doing so – 133,000 on the day, now upgraded by the BBC (28 07) to 183,500 – means there are a huge number of people who watch the party closely and leap to meet deadlines. Whether the party web site can cope seems to be decided, it seems it can.

    But BBC reported that 15 people in HQ are running to check social media for people to exclude. I think the rule book says CLPS should check, but I doubt this will happen in the time.

    Thus there are many issues here to discuss, but the one which is uppermost in my mind is the one Peter sidelines – why are so many people joining in so short a time? I doubt there is classic entryism of the 1980s type, there are too few trots to make this an organized surge. But two types of people who are not welcome are joining I suspect – those who support Corbyn but not the Labour Party, and the right. Both want Corbyn to stay leader, but for opposed reasons.

    The positive people want JC to be a radical leader, but don’t want to do any work to support Labour. My CLP chair told a meeting I went to last Monday speaking to a £47 member who just joined to vote for JC (and presumably won’t renew. We will see) and when asked about what could contribute refused to do so/ THis highlights the problem of slacktivism (the work clicktavists has started to be used as well) which has plagued the anti fascist movemement for some time. People whose politics is confined to a computer keyboard and never go out on the streets.

    As for Tories for Corbyn, it has gone quiet, but undoubtedly still exists. ANy information on this would be welcome.

    Trevor Fisher.

  2. Writing on 29th July I assumed the freeze date issue had been sidelined and the big issue of JC on the ballot paper had seen the NEC win. Or at least its majority. Today (8th August) a second legal ruling has happened, on the freeze dates, and the judge ruled against the NEC and seems to have supported Peter’s position. In short that the Labour Party had encouraged people to join and vote and it was unacceptable to deny them the right to vote in the freeze period still less to charge £25 for the privilege having already joined.

    THe freeze dates are in the rule book but Peter was on strong ground legally in saying in 2010 and =2015 they had been set aside and this established custom and practice. It has to be wondered why the NEC – or its sub committee – has challenged this judgement on the basis that the NEC has sole right to set the rules and hence to change them. Given the law is the final arbiter, we will see on Thursday whether the appeal to reverse today’s judgement will succeed.

    However there is a strong case to look at the legal advice given to the NEC as it set aside the freeze dates rightly placed in the constitution and therefore I would assume are precedents binding on the future decisions of the NEC.

    Trevor Fisher

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