A Labour donor is launching a legal challenge to the party’s ruling that Jeremy Corbyn can be automatically included in the leadership ballot.
Michael Foster, whose family gave £400,000 to the party, said he was worried about “apparent manipulation” of the rules by Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC).
On Tuesday, the NEC voted 18-14 to allow the Labour leader on the ballot.
His rivals Angela Eagle and Owen Smith need the backing of 51 MPs or MEPs.
The Labour leadership contest was sparked when Ms Eagle, who resigned from Mr Corbyn’s cabinet, announced she was challenging her leader and secured the necessary nominations.
There was a dispute over the interpretation of Labour’s rules, and whether they allowed Mr Corbyn to automatically defend his leadership, or whether he would also be required to secure 51 nominations.
After a reportedly highly-charged meeting, at which Labour’s governing body considered legal advice, the NEC ruled in Mr Corbyn’s favour.
But Mr Foster, who stood as a parliamentary candidate in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle in Cornwall, said he was concerned that “everyone in the room had a different political agenda”.
He insisted his legal challenge was “not about politics”, saying: “I’m simply concerned that this is an important issue. It’s about the rule of law.
“The advice given was certainly not given the expert consideration given by a high court judge.”
‘Determined to win’
Mr Foster said three contrasting pieces of advice had been given by three different lawyers, and the matter must be considered by a neutral court of law.
“When you conduct a membership association and it has a set of rules, you cannot, in Britain, a democracy that stands or falls by application of law, bend the rules to suit a particular circumstance or particular position,” he added.
He expected a court to hear the case within days, he said.
Who can vote in Labour leadership contest?
Labour Party members, affiliated trade union supporters and so-called registered supporters are able to vote although there are some key differences from the 2015 contest, which Jeremy Corbyn won:
- Labour Party members need to have signed up on or before 12 January to be eligible to vote. Nearly 130,000 people have become members alone since the EU referendum. As it stands, they won’t automatically be able to take part
- Anyone can become registered supporters – giving them a one-off vote – if they pay £25 and “share” Labour’s aims and values. There is a two-day window for people to sign up, expected to be 18 to 20 July although this has not been confirmed
- Registered supporters who paid £3 to vote in last year’s leadership election will have to reapply
- Affiliated trade union or socialist society supporters can sign up for less then £25, with rates depending on the organisation they belong to
Speaking after Tuesday’s decision, Mr Corbyn said he was “delighted” and would fight to keep his position.
“The inequality and poverty that exists in this country, the need to end the privatisation of our National Health Service, the need to give real hope and opportunity to young people all across this country,” he said.
Ms Eagle said she welcomed the contest and was “determined” to win.
She said she had eventually decided to launch a formal challenge because he was unwilling to stand down and she could provide the real leadership he could not.
On Wednesday, Owen Smith, also a former shadow minister in Mr Corbyn’s cabinet, announced he would also run.
The Pontypridd MP, who quit as shadow work and pensions secretary last month, said he could “heal” the party and “turn the page” on its internal strife.