Owen Smith 'must insist Jeremy Corbyn is on leadership ballot'

Owen Smith MP

The Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith is facing calls to make sure Jeremy Corbyn is on the ballot if a judge rules on Thursday that the incumbent leader needs to collect nominations from MPs.

Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) and a key backer of Corbyn, called on Smith to “show courage” and insist on a fair contest if the high court rules at 2pm that Corbyn is not automatically entitled to be on the ballot.

“If he’s as radical as he says, he can begin to prove it by refusing any effort by the legal establishment to crown him leader of the Labour party. Mr Justice Foskett does not get to choose Labour’s leader,” he said. “Owen must not become the first despot of the Labour party and, should the need arise, he must insist that Jeremy is on the ballot paper.”

Cortes added: “But more radical still would be if Owen would now agree with Jeremy’s preferred battle plan for the summer against our people’s real enemy – the Tories. It would be radical indeed if he stood down before the high court rules, sparing us all a civil war, and instead helped lead the troops to the battleground against the Tories.”

Smith is not a party to the legal action and is continuing his campaign on Thursday with member events.

Ahead of the 2pm verdict, Smith said it would be wrong for the high court to overturn the NEC decision about Corbyn being on the ballot paper automatically. He said Corbyn should be on the ballot and claimed to be confident that the court would reject the legal challenge.

Pressed on whether he supported MPs to nominate Corbyn for the sake of the contest, he said: “I’m saying let’s get to that question if we get there... I would like to contest it against Jeremy but it would be for other MPs to make their own decision. It is not for me to tell them what to do.”

It is thought the court is unlikely to interfere with the decision of Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) that Corbyn, as the incumbent, does not need to collect signatures from 51 MPs and MEPs.

However, if the case goes against Corbyn, Labour would be forced to reopen its nomination process for the leadership contest and the leader might not have enough parliamentary backers to be in the new competition.

The action has been brought by the donor and former parliamentary candidate Michael Foster. The court heard on Tuesday from lawyers for Foster that the leadership contest rules made “no trace of distinction” between an incumbent leader and a challenger, and thus both should be required to seek nominations.

Martin Westgate QC, acting for Corbyn, said the court had no reason to “disturb the decision of the NEC unless the decision was unreasonable”.

Both Smith and Corbyn have been pressing on with their campaigns while the judge deliberates.

Ballot papers will start to be sent out on 22 August, with the result announced at a special conference in Liverpool on 24 September.

A separate legal action is being brought by a group of members excluded from voting in the contest because they did not sign up before 12 January, and have not signed up separately by paying £25 to become registered supporters.

That case could be heard in the high court before 4 August and will determine whether around 130,000 excluded members will be able to take part in the voting.

Clive Lewis: ‘Corbyn was only supposed to blow the bloody doors off’

Clive Lewis, the shadow defence secretary, said it would be a “Pyrrhic victory” if Smith won because people would have been excluded from the vote.

In a video interview with the Guardian’s Owen Jones, he said the party was on a “precipice” and argued it was “disgraceful some members are being disenfranchised and put off” because of the rules in the contest.

On Wednesday, the shadow defence secretary also made a bold proposal that Labour should think about progressive alliances or electoral pacts with others on the left including the Greens, Lib Dems and SNP.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 28th July 2016 11.50 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010