How Jeremy Corbyn and his aide misunderstood the appeal court ruling
The Guardian of 16 August 2016 prints most of my letter pointing out that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the party, along with his ‘campaign spokesman’ [sic], at least one other writer of a letter to the Guardian and numerous contributors to the website LabourList, have completely misunderstood the decision of the court of appeal about the action of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in setting a membership cut-off date for voting in the leadership election. All these luminaries have been attacking, sometimes in colourful terms, the appeal court and its ruling, and the action of the party’s general secretary and a committee of the NEC in taking the case to the court of appeal, in at least one instance bad-mouthing by name one of the appeal court judges by reference to his past career. Mr Corbyn’s campaign spokesperson went even further in declaring the judgment of the court of appeal “illegal” as well as undemocratic!
All these attacks reveal an inability (or perhaps a refusal) to understand what it was that the court of appeal actually decided. I tried to set this out in my letter to the Guardian, whose full original text, with its syntax and sources restored, read as follows:
John Airs [author of Guardian letter, 15 Aug 2016] is in eminent company in asserting, wrongly, that the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Sales in the Court of Appeal “now decides that Labour shouldn’t face the vote of some 130,000 new members” (Letters, 15 August). Jeremy Corbyn, no less, said much the same in his Observer interview on the previous day (“People joined the Labour party… and were specifically told that they were able to vote in the leadership election and that was decided by the high court that they could. The appeal court has said they can’t….”). According to the BBC, Mr Corbyn’s campaign spokesperson went even further: ‘A spokesman for leader Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign said Friday’s verdict was legally and democratically “wrong”.’ In fact Lord Justice Sales and the other judges of the court of appeal said only that the party’s NEC had the power under the party’s rules to decide the criteria for voting in the leadership election and that its decision on the cut-off date for eligibility to vote was not illegal. The court made no comment either way on the wisdom or lack of it of the NEC’s decision, only that the NEC was legally entitled to make it.
This judicial upholding of the rights and powers of the party’s highest elected body (between party conferences) ought to be welcome to all Labour party members, and especially to supporters of Mr Corbyn who will apparently have a majority on the NEC after next month’s conference. The party’s general secretary, IainMcNicol, and the relevant NEC committee, were clearly right to defend those NEC rights by appealing against the high court’s contrary judgment. Quite apart from Mr Corbyn’s and others’ serious misinterpretation of the appeal court’s decision, which was manifestly in favour of the Labour party, personal attacks on a senior judge whose judgment, along with that of his brother judges, may have appeared to be unwelcome, ought to be completely out of order. The decision to disfranchise party members who joined after a given date was that of the NEC, not of any UK court.
15 August 2016
It’s unnerving that such an elementary mistake about the significance for the Labour party of such a notably supportive appeal court ruling should have been made by the party’s own leader, a person offering himself to the UK electorate as a future prime minister. The fact that his campaign “spokesman” actually saw fit to challenge, publicly, the legality of the ruling of the court of appeal also sheds a lurid light on the leader’s judgement in choosing his senior staff.