Labour leadership race may end in court battle

Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham is applauded after a speech at the Peoples Museum in Manchester earlier this week. Picture: Getty Images
Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham is applauded after a speech at the Peoples Museum in Manchester earlier this week. Picture: Getty Images
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THE Labour leadership contest has been plunged into chaos after frontrunner Andy Burnham’s campaign warned many “infiltrators” - including Tories - are planning to vote.

There are now warnings the result could be open to legal challenge as left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn seems increasingly likely to pull off a shock victory. Some of his supporters also claim they are being banned from taking part.

We have acted constantly on legal advice

Harriet Harman

The party’s acting leader Harriet Harman launched a staunch defence of the new voting system which allows “supporters” to join up for £3 and vote. Hundreds of ballots have already been cancelled and Ms Harman insisted that any infiltrators will be “weeded out.”

The contest between Mr Corbyn and Mr Burnham, along with Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper, runs until September 10, but voting has begun.

A letter calling for an urgent meeting to discuss fears that “several thousand” Conservatives and others have signed up for a vote has been sent by Mr Burnham’s campaign chief Michael Dugher.

It has been marred by claims of “entryism” by political opponents paying £3 to become registered Labour supporters under new party rules - giving them a vote in the poll.

More than 120,000 people have signed up, along with 189,000-plus members of unions and other affiliates, swelling the electorate to more than 600,000.

The party has begun blocking people it does not believe support the aims of the party.

In a letter to Labour general secretary Iain McNichol, Mr Dugher said more can be done by to weed out Tories and other “rogue voters.”

Mr Dugher said the party was “allowing the issue to drift, and potentially leaving insufficient time for the party to act”.

“We are also concerned that given the party’s limited resources and the effort required to investigate applicants, this could result in the integrity of the contest being called into question, and the outcome subject to legal challenge,” he said.

Ms Harman yesterday insisted that the party has a “rigorous” verification process which will withstand any legal challenge, but agreed to a meeting with the candidates on the issue.

She added: “We have acted constantly on legal advice, we have taken legal advice every step of the way and I’m absolutely certain that no court would decide that we had done anything other than apply the rules in a rigorous, robust, fair and even-handed way.”

She added: “People who do support the Labour party will be eligible for a vote and get their vote.

“We have a very rigorous process both to make sure that those people who are entitled to vote under this new system do get a vote, but also that those people who should not be eligible for a vote, because they don’t support the Labour party or they support another party, don’t get a vote. We’re dealing with that at national level, at regional level and at local level.”

Local constituency parties and MPs are even being given the names of people who have applied and asked to identify any who have stood against the Labour or campaigned against the party.

Ms Harman added: “This process is gong to continue right up until September 10.

“And even if somebody has cheated their way into the system, somebody who doesn’t support the Labour party, but has nevertheless got a ballot and been able to vote, their vote will be discounted when our verification process comes across evidence that they do not support the Labour party – their vote will be cancelled.”

Labour has also been accused of seeking to “rig” its leadership election by wrongly barring left-wing supporters of Jeremy Corbyn from taking part.

Comedian Jeremy Hardy is among those who have fallen victim to a vetting campaign to weed out voters deemed not to support the party.

Mr Corbyn has said that if significant numbers are banned “unfairly” then the decision to reject them “must be looked at again and challenged”.

“It is rigging the election to stop Corbyn,” Mr Hardy said yesterday.

The comedian was a party member in the past but publicly backed the Green Party in May’s general election.