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Labour’s future in hands of ‘£25 joiners’ as Smith joins Eagle on the ballot paper

Labour’s future in hands of ‘£25 joiners’ as Smith joins Eagle on the ballot paper

🕔13.Jul 2016

The future direction of the Labour party could be in the hands of registered members who have been given two days next week to pay a £25 joining fee so that they can get a vote in the leadership election, writes Paul Dale.

Jeremy Corbyn succeeded in convincing the party’s National Executive Committee, by 18 votes to 14, that as leader his name should automatically appear on the ballot paper without any requirement to obtain nominations from MPs and MEPs.

But at the end of a bitter five-hour meeting, the NEC managed to drop an unexpected bombshell.

The 130,000 members who have joined Labour since the EU referendum won’t get a vote in the leadership election, which is a blow to Mr Corbyn since most are assumed to be supporting him.

Anyone prepared to stump up £25 and sign a declaration that they accept the aims of the Labour party will be able to vote. When Mr Corbyn won last year the cost of becoming a registered member to obtain a leadership vote was £3, with tens of thousands of people taking advantage of the offer.

Even so, Mr Corbyn won last September by gaining 60 per cent support from party members and the huge margin of victory raises doubts over whether challengers Anna Eagle and Owen Smith will be able to garner enough support from new registered members who join next week to win.

Mr Smith, a former shadow work and pensions secretary who resigned in the abortive coup against Mr Corbyn, announced today that he is running for the Labour leadership, a decision that may put pressure on Ms Eagle to step aside.

MP for Pontypridd since 2010, Mr Smith, 46, a former journalist, joined the Labour party aged 16.

Regarded as being on the soft left of the party, he is seen by some as a better bet than Ms Eagle because he did not vote for air strikes against Syria last year.

However, he has clashed with Mr Corbyn most notably by supporting a cap on welfare benefits, and he also supports the renewal of Trident.

In his resignation letter to Mr Corbyn, Mr Smith said it was “deeply worrying” that the leader had been unable to hold together the shadow cabinet.

Confirming his decision to stand, Mr Smith said he was a “radical and credible” leader and he had not been part of “any plot or coup” as he went on to explain he had met Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn three times in past weeks to suggest some form of compromise.

I put to him a series of alternatives as recently as two days ago – they have been rejected.

He added that the present situation where most MPs had lost confidence in their leader “forces people like me to put our hats in the ring to say I can heal the party”.

Ms Eagle is urging Labour supporters who do not back Mr Corbyn to take the opportunity between July 18 and 20 to become registered members of the party so that they can vote for another candidate.

In an interview with the BBC, she said:

I would say to the nine million Labour voters out there, there’s two days next week when you can actually pay £25, help save the Labour Party, make our democracy work and help me heal our country.

Join as a registered supporter. Join us in this battle, let us win the Labour Party back.

Ms Eagle added the fee was a “pretty good investment for the whole future of democracy”.

Mr Corbyn expressed his delight at the decision and afterwards said:

I’m sure Labour MPs will understand that the party has to come together in order to present to the British people the options of a different and better way of doing things.

I have been elected, last year, 10 months ago today, with a very large mandate.

I respect that mandate. It’s a responsibility I’m carrying out.

I would hope there isn’t going to be a legal challenge. There’s been a very long legal discussion …

There were very well-qualified lawyers on hand to advise, so I think we are fine.

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