JEREMY CORBYN’S grip on the Labour leadership appeared to be weakening tonight, after an Appeal Court ruling which could cost him as many as 130,000 votes in the upcoming election.
Labour’s ruling body won its bid to overturn a High Court decision that had paved the way for supporters who signed up from January to take part in the contest.
Many of the members affected are believed to back Mr Corbyn rather than his rival Owen Smith.
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn’s campaign team said: “We think that this is the wrong decision - both legally and democratically.
“The Court’s ruling disenfranchises nearly 130,000 Labour members, who joined the party since January and were explicitly told that they would have a vote in any leadership election.”
Labour’s National Executive Committee decided on July 12 - referred to as the “freeze date” - that full members would not be able to vote if they had not enjoyed continuous party membership for at least six months.
The High Court on Monday ruled in favour of five members who said they were unlawfully “frozen out” of the leadership battle.
Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary, led the appeal against Mr Justice Hickinbottom’s decision.
Lord Justice Beatson, announcing the Appeal Court’s decision, said: “On the correct interpretation of the party rules, the National Executive Committee has the power to set the criteria for members to be eligible to vote in the leadership election in the way that it did.”
Mr Corbyn’s team said Labour’s lawyers had “invoked an obscure clause” in the party’s rule book that “could be read as giving the NEC the right to ignore all of the rules laid out for leadership elections”.
A spokesman said: “In other words, this is a ‘make it up as you go along’ rule. We do not think that making it up as you go along is a reasonable way to conduct democracy in our party.”
NEC chairman Paddy Lillis insisted the party had been right to launch an appeal.
He said: “The Labour Party welcomes the decision of the appeal court. The party has said consistently throughout this process that we would defend vigorously the decisions of the NEC.”
Lawyers for the five - Christine Evangelou, the Rev Edward Leir, Hannah Fordham, Chris Granger and “FM”, a teenage member - had argued that the NEC had no power under the rules to retrospectively freeze a full member’s ability to vote in leadership elections.
An application by the five for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected - but it is still open for them to apply directly to the highest court in the UK if they want to attempt to take their case further.
Mr Leir described the ruling as a “hugely disappointing result” for him and the 130,000 other party members now excluded from voting.
Mr Smith said: “I don’t think it changes anything for me. I’m just going to carry on getting around the country talking to members, old and new members, and trying to persuade them that the crisis that I see in the country and the crisis that I see in the Labour Party, we’ve got to solve them both, and that requires healing the party, uniting our party once more and getting us ready to take back power.”
“I think I am persuading them we need a new generation of Labour men and women to carry the flag forward for us, to get us ready for power once more.”