Jack McConnell, the veteran Labour politician, has condemned the party’s handling of its leadership election as a shambles, and said it puts the contest at risk.
With the contenders set for an emergency meeting to discuss efforts to weed out infiltrators, Labour’s former first minister of Scotland told BBC Newsnight the issue could overshadow the latter stages of the campaign, which he said should be about the candidates’ vision for the party and the country.
“This is a ridiculous situation and I cannot believe that when the initial decision was made in May to open up the membership in this way over the summer that somebody at a higher level in the party, or somebody in one of the at that time three main campaigns didn’t express some concerns,” he said.
“It seems, I think, in many ways to encapsulate what’s wrong with the running of the Labour party over recent years and why we’re in this mess in the first place.
More than 120,000 people have paid £3 to take part in the vote, along with more than 189,000 members of unions and other affiliates, swelling the electorate to more than 600,000.
According to Newsnight reports, more than 3,000 voters have been rejected, though Labour said on Friday the figure was half that number.
The first wave of rejections, known as #Labourpurge on social media, included removing members who had been Conservative, Green and Socialist Worker party candidates, and those expressing support or raising money for rival parties.
Leaked meeting notes from the party’s procedure committee show it has been inundated and the system is overstretched, with the New Statesman reporting that almost every member of Labour HQ’s slimmed-down post-election staff has been drafted in to help wade through the roll of new supporters.
Murad Gassanly, a councillor in Pimlico, south London, told Newsnight he estimated 20% of supporters who had joined the local branch were “dubious”, with evidence of them supporting other parties found on Google and social media.
Andy Burnham’s campaign chief, Michael Dugher, wrote to the party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, on Friday, raising the spectre of legal challenges by aggrieved parties if there continued to be doubts about the process.
It is understood, however, that Burnham has privately ruled out such a move. The motivation behind Dugher’s letter was apparently to push the party into doing more to weed out rogue voters rather than suggest Burnham could turn to the courts.
Dugher wrote to McNichol saying Labour was “allowing the issue to drift, and potentially leaving insufficient time for the party to act”. There was potentially more that could be done to eliminate Tories and other rogue voters, he said.
“We are also concerned that, given the party’s limited resources and the effort required to investigate applicants, this could result in the integrity of the contest being called into question, and the outcome subject to legal challenge.”
Harriet Harman, Labour’s interim leader, has said the result of the election would be final and insisted it had been run with constant legal advice.
A spokesman for Yvette Cooper’s campaign said the shadow home secretary was “focusing on winning arguments and votes, not legal challenges”.
Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign said it had confidence in the electoral procedures and said the process had been a preoccupation of the other candidates.
A spokesman said: “The purely internal procedural obsession falls short of the outward debate the party needs. Whilst some issues have been raised, we do have confidence in management of the process by elected members of Labour’s NEC [national executive committee] and the general secretary.”
This article was written by Daniel Boffey and Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Saturday 22nd August 2015 11.12 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010