Harriet Harman, the interim Labour leader, has defended the integrity of her party’s leadership election system amid claims it has been infiltrated by hard left extremists as well as Conservatives out to discredit the process.
She said “rigorous due diligence” was being undertaken by Labour staff, and the new electoral system introduced in 2014 was less open to manipulation than its predecessor, which freely allowed opponents of Labour to vote without any checks.
She also disclosed a new email was being sent to local branches setting out how they could check whether bogus applicants were trying to join the party as registered supporters.
Labour has been hit by allegations that the party, by offering a vote to anyone paying a £3 fee, has left itself vulnerable to mass infiltration, mainly by hard leftwingers but also by Tories. More than 20,000 new full members have joined the party since the leadership nominations closed. It is a good chance that most are genuinely enthused, and many are likely to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
Harman said she had been personally seeking reports on the integrity of the process before the weekend allegations of entryism by the hard left and calls for the process to be suspended.
Harman said a further email was due to be sent to all Labour constituency parties this week setting out how local parties could check and challenge the credentials of any new party members, union supporter or registered party member paying £3 to vote in the leadership contest. She said she was sending the email to local membership secretaries reminding them to use their local knowledge to check the identity of any local recruits and pointing out that any doubts about questionable applicants could be sent to head office.
“We are policing the integrity of this process. My job is to ensure the rules for this election agreed in 2014 are properly applied. The system is designed to give people that are supporters of the party, but not necessarily a member, a say in choosing the leader of the Labour party.
“I have been concerned right from the outset that we should have absolute integrity in the process and that we should be rigorous and robust in our verification. We have got an extensive verification system in place. We are doing everything possible to ensure the process is valid. Under the old system you could be card carrying member of another party and you still got a vote. We are now requiring people to say if they are Labour party members or supporters”.
Harman said new full party members were being vetted in the normal way, registered union supporters were being checked by the party nationally listening to recordings of recruitment calls made by union phone banks and new £3 registered supporters had to be checked both nationally and locally.
She said any union member could only be recruited to the party as a supporter by a union either by signing in person, or via a recorded phone call, a record of which has to be sent to the party for cross checking. Checks were being made to ensure that single signatures were not being used.
In addition, a special party unit was listening to the entirety of the recording of two-thirds of such calls to check those being recruited genuinely said they were party lasting supporters. Of the remaining third, half were being played back and checked. In the case of those calls not being checked completely, if the party staff thought there was a problem in a batch of calls, the automatic procedure is for the entire batch to be reviewed and listened back. She said there are 48 people working shifts across six days a week listening to these calls. She added she had personally listened to recordings of some of the calls.
Latest figures show Labour now has 262,000 party members of which 68,000 have joined since the May general election and 20,000 of those that have joined since nominations for the leadership closed closed.
A further 21,000 had joined as registered supporters after they paid £3 online, but only after being checked to see they were on the electoral register. The constituency parties can then make their own checks, and tell the national party via that an applicant is bogus or for example a Tory councillor.
In addition there are so far only 28,500 registered union supporters – lower than predicted, but that number is likely to rise substantially by mid-August, the cut off point for new recruits.
She pointed out the party had tracked down some Green party members trying to join the party as bogus registered supporters through social media such as Facebook. Other bogus entrants weeded out by the party Ms Harman said were Toby Young, the Telegraph columnist, and Derek Hatton, the former Militant council leader in Liverpool.
Harman said Young’s cited reason for joining the party was to consign the Labour party to electoral oblivion. Another bogus applicant put as the reason for registering a desire to put Labour out of power for 20 years.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 28th July 2015 07.11 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010