Now Corbyn’s talking about a legal challenge

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By Katie King on

Lawyers disagree on the internal procedures for electing Labour’s next leader


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to take his own party to court if he isn’t named on the leadership contest ballot paper.

But lawyers can’t seem to agree on whether Corbyn, in the rules, is automatically included in the race.

In what’s shaping up to be a pretty busy time for the legal profession, the Labour party is gearing up for a new leadership vote with the party’s governing body, the national executive committee (NEC), meeting tomorrow to discuss how the contest will be run.

Oxford-educated labour MP Angela Eagle will be launching a leadership bid against Corbyn following a swathe of post-referendum shadow cabinet resignations.

It’s not set in stone that she will be able to launch the bid yet because she needs to get the backing of 51 MPs and MEPs. But given the party’s recent overwhelming (secret) vote of no confidence in their leader, she’s expected to drum up support from far more than that.

One grey area that the proposed contest exposed is: will the current leader Corbyn also need a certain number of MPs to support him or he is automatically allowed to be on the ballot paper?

The rumour mill was spinning all of last week that the disgruntled party could even try and keep the non-Oxbridge-educated party leader off the ballot paper.

Democratic socialist Corbyn, however, wouldn’t take this lying down. Speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, he insisted that if his name wasn’t on the ballot he would take legal action against the party:

I will challenge that…I’m expecting to be on the ballot paper because that’s what the rules indicate.

He told viewers he had: “taken soundings from lawyers” who have advised him this is the case, and it seems Doughty Street Chambers barrister Mark Henderson thinks so too.

However, legal commentator and media lawyer David Allen Green isn’t so convinced. He says:

[I]t seems to me that the Labour NEC could lawfully exclude the current leader from the ballot if he does not have sufficient nominations.

That’s not to say that Green thinks Corbyn should be left off the ballot paper; quite the opposite. He continues:

Nobody in the Labour party with any sense should want this issue to go to a court. [E]ven if Corbyn can legally be excluded from the vote because he cannot meet the same requirements as a challenger, it would be better not to exclude him.

The NEC meeting on Tuesday should provide some clarity on this but watch this space for more legal challenges in the post-Brexit days, months, years… to come.