Union representatives to the National Executive Committee have complained that some delegates may not be able to make the meeting on Tuesday, which will decide if the Labour leader is automatically included in the ballot.
A leaked email obtained by the Guardian shows one Unite delegate has demanded that the party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, should quash rumours that Corbyn could be banned from attending the meeting. She also alleges that a secret ballot could be held when delegates are asked to vote on the leadership contest.
The vote is crucial because it is believed that Corbyn could struggle to get the 51 MPs and MEPs required to ensure that he can stand again if he is not automatically included on the leadership ballot.
The NEC meeting was triggered on Monday after Angela Eagle launched her bid to topple Corbyn as Labour leader. It is believed that former shadow welfare secretary Owen Smith has collected enough names to stand and could also launch a bid on Tuesday.
It comes as a new poll claims that the majority of members of Labour-affiliated unions believe Jeremy Corbyn should step down as Labour leader, with an even greater proportion believing he is unlikely to win a general election if he stays on.
The YouGov poll for Election Data covered 1,221 members of unions, almost all from Unite, Unison, the GMB, Usdaw, and CWU, which have representatives on the NEC. It comes just over a week after a similar if smaller poll of Unite members found 49% believed Corbyn should step down straight away.
The NEC of 33 delegates will meet at 2pm on Tuesday to decide the terms of the contest, including whether Corbyn’s name will go through automatically on the ballot.
Corbyn’s supporters are believed to have a majority of around four on the NEC. But union delegates believe this may be whittled away because at least two union delegates are on holiday.
One Corbyn-supporting Unite delegate sent an email at 2.22pm on Monday to McNicol protesting at the short notice and accusing the party of underhand tactics.
She wrote: “Dear Iain, I must protest in the strongest possible terms about an NEC meeting being called at such short notice … for those who work in industry or elsewhere, and in particular for those who live outside London, it will be extremely difficult for them to get there.”
The delegate also demanded that McNicol should confirm or deny rumours that there could be a secret ballot of the NEC on whether or not Jeremy Corbyn should be on the ballot paper. “I am sure I am not the only NEC member who would find it extraordinary if we are asked to vote in this way,” the delegate said.
She also protested at plans to exclude Corbyn from the meeting on the grounds that he is standing to be leader. “Jeremy is not a ‘candidate’, he is the elected leader of the Labour party who will be facing an election entirely as a result of the actions of others. He is therefore a bona fide member of the NEC and must be present,” she wrote.
She added: “We have an NEC meeting already scheduled for next week which can make all the necessary decisions, but the fact that the media have widely trailed the fact that a meeting will be called tomorrow gives a clear indicator that some in the party have had this in mind for some time.”
Sources at the TSSA rail union said it was considering an injunction to stop the meeting from going ahead.
McNicol did not respond to a request for a comment. But a source close to the party said the protests make little sense.
“We’ve just seen David Cameron hand power to Theresa May in under five hours but Unite want a meeting in eight days’ time because some of them work outside London,” the source said.
Unite have obtained legal advice from Michael Mansfield QC on whether Corbyn needs the support of MPs before standing in a leadership election.
The advice concludes: “The rules by which the party is governed are unambiguous: The leader does not require any signatures to be nominated in a leadership election where there is a potential challenger to the leadership.”
Labour MPs gathered on Monday night for the regular meeting of the parliamentary Labour party. The deputy leader, Tom Watson, said he had to accept he had been unable to broker a deal for Corbyn to step down without a challenge.
“For years I have been known as a fixer,” Watson told his fellow MPs. “I have tried to fix this and I have failed.”
Watson also said he appreciated Corbyn’s direct mandate from members, but that he also had one as deputy leader, and if 80% of MPs wanted him to step down he would do so.
Corbyn did not attend the meeting but is pressing ahead with a planned speech to the policy conference of Unite in Brighton on Tuesday.
The new polling, carried out on Friday and Saturday, said 68% of union members do not believe Labour under the current leadership is on course to win an election in 2020, with 76% thinking it is unlikely Corbyn will ever be prime minister.
Of those polled, 32% said Corbyn should lead Labour into the next election, with 58% disagreeing, among which 45% said he should step down immediately. The figures are broadly similar for all the unions, and for those who said they voted Labour in 2015.
However, there was a more even split among those who said they were eligible to pick a Labour leader, with 35% of them saying they would back Corbyn and 38% saying not.
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