Labour grassroots members are in open revolt over a series of restrictions imposed by the party’s ruling national executive over the leadership contest – with some branches holding unofficial meetings in defiance of a ban imposed nationally earlier this week.
Labour branches in London, the Midlands, Liverpool and elsewhere all defied the order and organised impromptu events, reflecting unhappiness in some parts of the party’s membership at the decision taken at the same meeting that confirmed that Jeremy Corbyn would be on the leadership ballot.
After Corbyn’s candidacy was validated, the NEC ruled that only those who had been members for more than six months would be allowed to vote, while new supporters wishing to cast their vote would be given two days to sign up as registered supporters. They will have to pay £25, far more than the £3 many Corbyn-backers paid in the contest last year.
Pro-Corbyn members are also protesting over the suspension of all constituency party meetings until the election for leader is over at the end of September. In Wallasey, the Merseyside constituency of Angela Eagle – one of the two challengers to Corbyn – members booked a hall for a meeting of the New Brighton branch on Wednesday night. It went ahead as an informal meeting of Labour members rather than an official event.
At the end of the two-hour meeting, a vote of no confidence in Eagle was passed by 54 to nine. In a second vote, they unanimously rejected the £25 membership fee, which one of those in the hall denounced as “a surcharge on democracy”.
Members at the meeting accused the national executive of trying to exclude the tens of thousands who had joined since the attempt to remove Corbyn a fortnight ago. Kathy Miller, secretary of the Wallasey constituency party, said 369 new members had joined her branch since 24 June , bringing the total to 1,221.
Sarah Henney, a member who was also at the meeting, said she was upset at the attitude of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) towards members. “What other organisations do you get that holds its members in such contempt?” she asked.
She ran through a list of MPs who she said had referred to members as “Trots, rabble and dogs”. In response, she set up the hashtag #TrotsRabbleDogs on Twitter, which proved popular. “I am just a working mum. I am not Momentum [the organisation set up in the autumn to support Corbyn]. I would not call myself a Corbynista,” she said, adding that she was dismayed by what she believed to be a coup against the current leader.
Several speakers at the meeting expressed support for Eagle and were listened to respectfully without interruption.
A spokesperson for Eagle said: “The meeting in New Brighton was not an official Labour party branch meeting as all Labour party meetings have been suspended for the leadership election.
“We do not know who was invited to the meeting and if the attendees were selected by the meeting’s organiser. The meeting’s organiser is a known disruptive influence in the Labour party who deselected another sitting Merseyside MP, Frank Field, in the 1990s. He had been expelled from the Labour party until around a year ago.”
After the meeting, members continued the discussion in a nearby pub. Corbyn addressed the gathering by speakerphone, delivering a broad statement on social and economic policy.
In neighbouring Birkenhead, constituency officials turned up for a branch meeting at the local pub even though it technically had been cancelled. Officials were concerned new members would arrive and there would be no one to greet them. About half a dozen did, as well as about a dozen representatives and members who held a lively debate about the suspension and the bar on new members voting.
The new members included Anne McCluskey, a 46-year-old trainee teacher who had never been a member of a party before. “I was not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn. However, I do not like what has happened. He was voted as leader only a year ago and it looks like a mutiny,” she said. At being barred from voting, she added: “I am amazed that there is a cut-off date. What I am not happy about is you can buy a vote for £25.”
In the Brentford and Isleworth constituency in London, Salman Shaheen said a planned branch meeting had been suspended with four hours’ notice, but 41 members met anyway. He described the suspension and the barring of new members from voting as a “deeply undemocratic move”.
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