Labour has hauled in its four leadership campaign teams for a meeting at party headquarters in an attempt to put a stop to complaints from some of the camps about the credibility of the contest.
The party called in representatives of Jeremy Corbyn, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall on Tuesday, as it sought to clear up confusion about the process and reassure them that no “entryists” from other parties would successfully infiltrate the competition.
At the meeting, called by Iain McNicol, the party secretary, and attended by chief whip Rosie Winterton, the campaign teams were told that at least 1,200 members or supporters of other parties have now been excluded and at least another 800 are under investigation.
But despite the party’s attempts to stress the robustness of its verification process, the Guardian has been told by sources present that the meeting raised more questions than it answered, and at least three of the camps are in touch with each other to discuss their concerns about the running of the contest.
The party’s official procedures committee will meet on Wednesday to address some of the complaints that have been raised.
Corbyn is the bookmakers’ favourite, with a YouGov poll for the Times putting him at 53% of first preferences. However, his presence in the race has also caused complications for the Labour officials running the contest, who have had to weed out a small minority of supporters from other parties paying £3 to join up and vote for him.
Based on the YouGov results, Corbyn appears to be so far ahead in the race that the level of entryists discovered so far would probably not affect the overall result.
Some of those barred from voting include signups from the left wanting to see a firmly anti-austerity Labour leader, and supporters of the Conservative party who believe Corbyn would lead Labour to defeat. Labour said Conservative supporter Toby Young, Conservative MP Tim Loughton and former Tory MEP Martin Callanan were among those weeded out.
Sources in some of the camps present at the Tuesday meeting said concerns were raised over the effectiveness of the verification process, especially given the demands placed on voluntary members of local parties who have been asked to check through huge lists of new supporters. The number of full Labour party members has soared to 282,000, on top of the 90,000 who have signed up through the trade unions.The number of registered supporters who have paid £3 to join has reached 70,000 – up from the 35,000 reported last week.
Some members of the campaign teams are unhappy that they do not have access to the list of 90,000 new affiliated union members. Some believe unions could provide the names to the Corbyn camp to help with his campaign. None of those making that claim in private were prepared to make it publicly.
Because the party is still verifying 70,000 of these new affliated members, the full list will not be officially available to all four candidates for about another 10 days. Labour said it has 48 members of staff working on verifying applications and another 30 staff at Labour HQ working on additional checks. The deadline for signing up as a member, affiliated supporter or registered supporter is midday on Wednesday.
A source in one of the camps said there was “no level of confidence we could take” from the party’s assurances about how it was verifying new supporters. The senior source also argued it was “frankly ill-judged” for the party to request an end to people criticising the process.
A senior source in another camp was more positive about the contest, saying the party seemed to be successfully identifying people who should not be eligible, but added that it was widely agreed that the decision to allow new supporters to register for £3 had been a mistake.
Asked about the process, a Labour spokesman said the meeting had been called to clear up some confusion about how the competition would work.
He denied that the campaigns had been ordered to stop complaining about the process but said the party wanted to make sure it was not undermined by misunderstandings.
Over the last week, some senior figures in the Labour establishment have expressed alarm about the possibility of a Corbyn victory, including the former home secretary Alan Johnson and Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, arguing he would not be a credible leader.
However, allies of Corbyn believe he will be helped rather than hindered by criticism from Blairites such as Campbell and see the series of big Westminster names lining up to disparage him as a sign of panic.
Tom Watson, one of the candidates to be deputy leader, said Corbyn had set fire to the contest and called on other members of the party to get behind him if he is elected leader.
In an interview with the CWU union, Corbyn pledged on Tuesday to create a ministry of labour and a comprehensive workers’ rights bill.
Peter Hain, the former cabinet minister who is backing Yvette Cooper in the leadership, said people felt underwhelmed by the frontbench candidates, who had not captured the mood of the party, while Corbyn had successfully articulated a “very rich seam of real anger about austerity”. However, he said he did not believe the Islington North MP would put the party in a position to win a general election unless there was a seismic change in the political landscape.
Hain also expressed some concerns about the leadership process, telling the BBC’s World at One: “What we tried to do here is do something no political party has yet done, broaden the franchise for our election through establishing the new category of registered supporters … to extend our base and our links into the wider community.”
He added: “But it has appeared to come at a price and we will have to see how it turns out. I’m a strong supporter of the idea of registered supporters but I don’t think they should have equal votes with established party members. Regardless of who wins this, it can’t be right for Conservatives and others to get a candidate who they think they can most easily beat at the next election.”
One MP, Barry Sheerman, a supporter of Kendall, has even called for a pause in the process to make sure it is properly robust, although this has been rejected by the party and candidates.
Last night, Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who
nominated Kendall, went so far as to call for a rerun of the contest, arguing that up to a third of the new supporters who signed up in his own constituency should not be voting.
“Having seen the list in relation to Rochdale and hearing the horror stories from around the country in terms of entryism within the Labour party, I do think we’re moving to a position where the election probably isn’t tenable,” he told LBC Radio.
With Corbyn in the lead, Burnham and Cooper are jostling to establish themselves as the candidate who could beat him on second preference votes.
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