The Labour leadership battle took yet another shocking turn on Thursday – as a major party donor said he would be going to court in a bid to stop Jeremy Corbyn.
Michael Foster, a former Labour parliamentary political candidate (PPC) whose family have donated £400,000 to the party, said that he would be challenging Corbyn’s right to automatically appear on the ballot in the leadership race.
This comes after Tuesday’s decision by the National Executive Committee (NEC) to allow the Labour leader to contest the election without requiring nominations from MPs. The NEC ruled in favour of Corbyn by 18 votes to 14, clearing the way to what, at the time, seemed like a clear-cut victory.
But since that decision, those opposed to Corbyn have launched efforts to place as many obstacles in the Labour leader’s way as possible. It was announced immediately after the NEC’s decision that restrictions would be imposed on who could vote in the contest. Members who had been with the party less than six months would not have a voice, nor would those who paid £3 last year. They also gave merely a two day window (between 18-20 July) for people to become registered supporters.
At first it appeared that a way around this would be to join a union, and early on Thursday Unite released details confirming this:
However, the “Labour Procedures Committee” later announced that new trade union members would also be barred from having a vote in the leadership contest – applying the same six month freeze. To say the party was actively rallying against its leader would be an understatement.
Head quarter honchos have also banned all constituency Labour party (CLP) meetings during the election, meaning motions for and against Corbyn, and also many MPs, would not be allowed. This met with a furious backlash on social media amongst members. As The Canary previously reported:
by stifling democratic and necessary debate, they are, in reality, only undermining their own authority and credibility in the eyes of many of their members. Furthermore, with the furore surrounding the imposed rules about who can vote in the leadership election – any semblance of fairness and egalitarianism has gone out of the window.
Now, with a potential legal challenge thrown into the mix, it would seem that the kitchen sink is literally being thrown at the campaign to stop Corbyn.
Foster is a wealthy celebrity agent to the likes of Chris Evans, Anne Robinson and Sacha Baron Cohen, who also stood as a PPC in the Camborne and Redruth constituency of Cornwall. He told the BBC that he was concerned about the “apparent manipulation” of the Labour rulebook by the NEC, and that:
everyone in the room had a different political agenda [but it is] not about politics […] 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. 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.
However, Foster claiming that it’s “not about politics” doesn’t quite ring true – as the former celebrity agent has publicly berated Corbyn on several occasions.
In September 2015, Foster heckled the Labour leader at a Labour Friends of Israel reception, for apparently not referencing Israel at all in an eight minute speech. Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle, he explained that:
I find it difficult to understand how the leader of the British Labour party, when he has spent the conference talking about decency, respect for human values and human rights, kindness and a new way of conducting politics […] cannot find in his lexicon of words at that meeting, the word ‘Jew’, ‘Jewish’, ‘the UK Jewish community’ or the word ‘Israel’. That is not leadership.
He also launched a scathing attack on Corbyn, via a Daily Mail column in April of this year, accusing him of being “Ignorant, Godless and hateful”, saying that Corbyn’s brother Piers was a “racist” and that the Labour leader, in supporting critics of Israel’s government, showed:
callousness and contempt for the history of the Jews in Europe [and] crass, hateful and ignorant support for these people.
But Foster is not without a history of public confrontations himself. In 2015, he was accused of bombarding a fellow PPC with a tirade of abuse at a hustings in Cornwall. He was reported to have launched at Mebyon Kernow candidate Loveday Jenkin, saying “You c***. If you pick on me again I will destroy you”, after she questioned him about his potential bias towards the proposed “mansion tax”, owing to the fact he owned two homes, both worth over £1m.
It would appear from his history of attacks on Corbyn, that this legal challenge against the Labour leader is wholly “about politics”, whatever Foster may claim. He also donated £5,000 and gave a £10,000 loan to Liz Kendall, and a further £8,000 to Andy Burnham – both during their 2015 leadership election campaigns.
Whatever Foster’s motives, as The Canary previously reported, taking the case before a judge may prove fruitless.
The NEC committee ballot is currently open to elect new members across the board for 2016. By the time any legal decision is made about Corbyn’s position – the makeup of the NEC will be entirely different. And it would be this committee which the legal result would be bounced back to – as it is likely that any legal bid would fail.
So, it would appear that whatever they throw at Corbyn, the Labour plotters’ efforts are going to waste. Moving the voting goalposts, stifling internal debate in a manner Stalin would be proud of, and now the wealthy grandees of the party throwing their money into a legal challenge which, most likely, will be utterly pointless.
However, if by some miracle (for the plotters) a court does decide that Corbyn has to get the 51 PLP nominees needed to run in the election, this will only serve to throw the party into further conflict. And judging by the mood among Corbyn supporters, they will not be going anywhere.
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