Jeremy Corbyn pulled off yet another momentous victory last night.
After hours of secret deliberation and weeks of debate, the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) ruled that the under-pressure Labour leader WILL automatically be on the ballot for the upcoming leadership contest.
This was a massive boost for Corbyn. If the NEC had decided instead that the opposition leader needed to secure the support of 51 MPs and MEPs, his hopes of overcoming the coup against his leadership would have been crushed. Corbyn is deeply unpopular with Labour parliamentarians and would have really struggled to find 51 who still back him.
However, as camp Corbyn began to celebrate, the NEC made another crucial announcement: Only Labour members who signed up before January 12 are automatically eligible to vote in the leadership contest. Those who joined afterwards or want a one-off vote will have to pay a fee of £25.
This enraged Corbyn supporters. Not only is £25 nearly a ten-fold increase on the £3 fee which supporters had to pay to participate in Labour’s last election, but it threatened to disenfranchise around 130,000 members who have signed up in the last six months — most of them being supporters of the left-wing leader.
But, this blow to Corbyn’s hopes of winning a second contest may not be as large as it initially seemed. It might not be a blow at all.
The £25 fee will affect moderate supporters — not just Corbynistas
Over 100,000 people have joined the Labour Party since the coup against Corbyn got underway, as Business Insider reported last week. However, not all of them support Corbyn. In fact, only 40% of those new members said they joined to support the former rebel backbencher.
The #SaveLabour movement — set up to encourage people to join the party to defeat Corbyn and replace him with a more moderate candidate — is very likely to account for a significant share of the party’s recent surge membership. The whopping £25 fee applies to them, too, and there is no indication whatsoever that they are more likely to cough up.
As the New Statesman’s George Eaton pointed out, passionate, ideologically-driven Corbyn supporters are just as likely, if not more likely, to part with their money than centrists who generally don’t identify so strongly with an individual politician.
With this in mind, the NEC’s decision will not just hurt the Corbyn vote — it will hurt the entire vote.
There is always a loophole
Whatever the case, £25 is a lot of money for many people. However, there is another way.
Labour supporters who want to vote but don’t want to pay the fee can instead join the union Unite for just 50p a week and in return receive a vote in the Labour leadership contest free of charge. Jennie Formby, a senior Unite official who is an NEC member, posted tweets on Tuesday evening urging people to join:
Labour supporters will have until August 8th to sign up to Unite. In theory, Corbyn supporters could join in the next few weeks and then end their membership as soon as the election is done, meaning they won’t have to pay anything more than a few pounds.
This is very important because nearly 60% of those affiliated with trade unions supported Corbyn in last year’s leadership election. If Unite — the country’s largest trade union — uses its social media presence to spread news of this loophole, then the £25 charge may only a minor affect on Corbyn’s support.
The anti-Corbyn vote could easily split
Even if not as many Corbyn supporters participate in this year’s leadership contest, this might not be as pivotal as it seems. The news that Owen Smith intends to stand in the contest means that two moderate candidates are set to go up against Corbyn, rather than an Angela Eagle solo-effort.
Smith, the ‘soft-left’ MP for Pontypridd who quit his role as shadow work and pensions secretary in the protest against Corbyn, could be a more likely winner than Eagle as he voted against invading Iraq in 2003. As a result, the anti-Corbyn vote will split and subsequently become weaker, while Corbyn supporters will be united behind a single candidate.
Labour MPs are seemingly beginning to realise the reality of this. An unnamed MP told ITV’s Chris Ship that they hope “someone can talk him [Smith] out of it,” according to a tweet Ship posted on Wednesday morning.
Jeremy Corbyn is currently in the midst of the biggest political fight of his life. But even with his party utterly determined to bring his leadership to an early end, he continues to have the strongest hand.
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