Five new members of Britain’s crisis-hit main opposition Labour Party won a court case yesterday allowing them to vote in its leadership contest — a decision affecting 125,000 people.
The party’s governing National Executive Committee had decided people who had been members for less than six months up to July 12 could not vote in the contest between embattled leader Jeremy Corbyn and relatively unknown challenger Owen Smith.
The high court said the NEC’s decision amounted to a breach of contract, in a ruling that increases the voter base by around a quarter.
The five new party members claimed they had been “frozen out” of the leadership contest.
The high court verdict was being interpreted as a victory for socialist stalwart Corbyn, already runaway favourite with the bookmakers to win the contest.
“Corbyn boosted by new members’ ruling,” said the Financial Times newspaper.
Bookmakers William Hill immediately slashed their odds on Corbyn winning from 1/10 to 1/16.
“This already looked an unequal contest, but this new ruling seems to spell the death knell for Smith’s hopes,” said William Hill spokesman Graeme Sharpe.
Labour is in deep crisis with Corbyn popular among the party’s grassroots, but sharply at odds with an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs.
They believe he is an incapable leader driving them towards a third straight general election defeat.
A YouGov poll of 1,772 adults conducted between August 1 and 2 put Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives on 42% support, Labour on 28%, Ukip on 12% and the Liberal Democrats on 8%.
The Labour Party could take the high court ruling to the court of appeal and if it does, a hearing could take place later this week.
Corbyn’s campaign manager John McDonnell, Labour’s finance spokesman, appealed to the party not to appeal, calling the prospect “appalling”.
Smith, little known even at Westminster until he announced his candidacy, called for an extension of the timetable in the leadership contest following the ruling.
Ballot papers in the leadership contest are due to be posted to members, trade unionists and registered supporters on August 22 and the winner announced on September 24.
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