Labour Party donor Michael Foster announced this week that he is launching a legal challenge against the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) decision to automatically put Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot for the upcoming leadership contest.
But constitutional expert Dr. Peter Catterall told Business Insider how this was a “waste of time” and pretty much pointless because it won’t change anything.
The NEC ruled 18-14 that the under-pressure leader will not be required to secure the support of 51 Labour parliamentarians before he can stand in the election, after hearing advice from at least three different lawyers.
Foster, who has given £400,000 ($531,363) to the party, argues that each lawyer had a “different political agenda” and the NEC ought to have been advised by a high court judge. “It’s not about politics, I’m simply concerned that this is an important issue. It’s about the rule of law,” said Foster to the BBC.
Business Insider spoke to Dr. Peter Catterall of the University of Westminster about whether Foster actually has a case and what the implications of his legal challenge will really be.
“His [Foster’s] case is slightly problematic because the rules of the Labour Party are not entirely clear, which means there is lots of difficulty when it comes to interpreting what they mean,” said Dr. Catterall.
“He probably has got a case, though it seems to me that given the extensive debates in the NEC, it may not be that strong at all.”
Foster told the BBC that he expected a court to hear the case within days. But, according to Catterall, even if Foster’s legal challenge is successful, it is unlikely to have any sort of impact on the Labour leadership contest or Corbyn’s place on the ballot.
“What difference would it make? It would lead to a lot more disgruntled Labour members; the infighting in the party would get worse; some people may go off and join other parties; but if even he doesn’t win these things could still happen anyway.”
He added (emphasis ours):
“Essentially, what Foster is saying is the judgment made on the interpretation of the rules was made by people who had political agendas. So, this is a matter of internal interpretations.
“Even if Foster wins the court case, the party could just ignore him, because what standing would it have? The Labour Party has not broken company law. All you can say is the party may have broken its own very opaque rules. I really don’t think the court could force the NEC to rescind the decision it has already made. In that sense, it would just be a waste of money.”
Dr. Catterall went on to explain that rather than threaten Corbyn’s automatic place on the ballot, a court ruling would actually be more likely to confirm his candidacy.
“A successful case could force the party to redraw the rules to make them less ambiguous. But the NEC would only redraw the rules to ratify the position that it had already taken. It is worth remembering that a court case is not a very good way of improving rules — all it can do is point out where they are inconsistent.”
The legal challenge launched by Foster was just the latest episode in a bitter civil war which is brewing within Labour between supporters of the veteran socialist leader and moderate MPs who wish to see him replaced. No matter what the outcome of Foster’s case, it will only bring the party into even more disrepute.
“Winning case won’t solve the problems that the Labour Party has. It would just delay the process of sorting out where the party is going — if indeed it is going anywhere,” Dr. Catterall added.
“I suspect a lot of the Corbynistas are just going to see this as yet another plot by the Blairite traitors as they tend to see it. They are utterly convinced that there’s an endless right-wing plot against them.”
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