Late on July 12th, Corbyn supporters were rejoicing. Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had decided that the party leader has an “automatic right” to be included on the upcoming leadership election ballot. However, the news was quickly dampened by an additional decision: Labour members who joined in the previous six months would only be eligible to vote if they pay a £25 fee – to be paid between 18th and 20th July, specifically – to become a ‘supporter’.
After an uproar from the public about the anti-democratic decision, still unexplained by the NEC themselves, rumours about possible workarounds – as a BAME member, or an LGBT member, or as a Unite community member, for example, all for fees of less than £25 – flooded the internet.
However, terms about whether the new fee and the time limit applied to all types of membership were not clarified. The Independent ran with the story without mentioning this, and saying that all people who joined as a Unite ‘community member’ would be able to pay only 50p a week. This option is in fact reserved for those who are unwaged only.
How you can vote in the Labour party leadership election without paying £25 https://t.co/Ln6AQfycj9
— The Independent (@Independent) July 13, 2016
Rumours about Unite’s ‘community membership’ option being opened up to the general public, and thereby offering a workaround, or meaning that new members could vote ‘for free’ were bandied around as real options. Joining Unite is indeed an option, but it’s £14 a month if you are “in work”, meaning that those strapped for cash might just be better off paying the one-off fee of £25 if they don’t feel they can afford continuing membership.
Part-time workers who are paying less than the full-rate of £14 have been in contact with The Canary to suggest there may be lesser fees for part-time workers, however.
— London Black Revs (@LondonBlackRevs) July 12, 2016
Unite have clarified their terms, and when contacted by The Canary confirmed that as long as members join at the correct membership rate, comply with the usual T&Cs, and become an affiliate of the Labour Party under their Unite membership – for free, and before August 8th – they are automatically eligible to vote in the Labour leadership election.
Their terms are as follows:
All Unite members are eligible to vote in the Labour leadership election provided:
They pay the political levy – this will be the case unless the member has opted out.
They have agreed to be affiliated to the Labour Party and have signed a statement that they support the aims and values of the Labour Party and are not a supporter of any other political party. Unite members should sign up at www.unitetheunion.org/yourpartyyourvoice before 8th August.
That they are on the electoral register at the address given to the union and the Labour Party.
That have provided a date of birth and email address
They have joined Unite and signed up as an affiliated member by August 8th. The Labour party will be conducting the election.
The Unions Together webpage, the group of 14 trade unions affiliated with Labour, says that the deadline for signing up via them has passed. In addition, their deadline for affiliation was 3pm on the 13th July, just hours after the announcement of the voter block.
Unite told The Canary that after clarifying their terms this morning, they expected many rapid applications for membership to Unite for voting reasons.
So ultimately, joining Unite appears to be the clearest workaround for all who want to join the union. Those who joined after January 12th who don’t find a workaround route to vote – union or otherwise – will have to pay £25. It is unlikely, but possible, that circumstances will change, but only if significant pressure is put on the government, or other bodies to offer workarounds.
Twitter user @Untied_Kingdom claimed they had got through to the Labour helpline, which was down much of the morning, and had been told that the website – which still states all members are eligible to vote – was out of date. The operator claimed that Labour’s mistake did not mean that new members were mis-sold their membership, and that the NEC had the legal right to change the voting rules. They maintained that the only way for new and recently joined members to vote would be to pay the £25 fee.
Alongside the increase in membership of the pro-Corbyn movement Momentum, and the increase in membership before Corbyn’s election last year, there is good reason to believe a significant proportion of Labour’s 130,000 newly joined members did so to vote for Corbyn.
In this vein, the NEC have been accused of ‘bias‘ against Corbyn due to a purge of likely Corbyn voters, even after they ruled in his favour to be included in the election. Either way, the NEC’s decision has, then, excluded some 20% of the Labour membership from voting in the leadership elections.
The £25 fee for members who joined in the first half of 2016 is a more than 8-fold increase from the £3 required to become a supporter in last year’s Labour leadership election, which saw Jeremy Corbyn become leader.
The NEC are still yet to justify their decision about blocking voters and demanding the higher fee, and the Labour Party helpline is still down.
Sign the 38 degrees petition to scrap the decision to block the 130k new members who joined since January 12th.
Support the Crowdfunder to help pay for people who can’t afford to vote.
Image via Tom Page
[This article was updated at 18:00 on 13 July by the author: the 38 Degrees petition, and the separation of referendum and post-January members was initially incorrect.]
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