Andy Burnham has called for an emergency meeting over concerns of “large scale” infiltration of Conservative supporters in the Labour leadership race.
His team has written to Labour HQ demanding a meeting be held early next week between all four campaigns, claiming that the evidence of ‘entryism’ from supporters of other parties in the leadership election could result in the integrity of the contest being called into question.
The outcome of the election could even be subject to legal challenge unless the party takes immediate action, Mr Burnham’s camp warns.
An astonishing 121,000 people took advantage of new rules enabling them to sign up as "registered supporters" and be given a vote in the leadership contest, but the process has been marred by claims that supporters of rival parties have used this avenue to make sure Mr Corbyn wins the contest.
In a letter to the Labour party’s general secretary Iain McNicol, Labour MP and chairman of Mr Burnham’s campaign Michael Dugher writes:
“There has been extensive media coverage in recent days regarding the procedural elements of the leadership elections. We warmly welcome the fact that the process has been opened up, thus enabling so many rank and file Labour supporters to have a say in the future of our party.
“There do however remain concerns about potential Tory infiltration on a large scale, with a Conservative MP, Conservative media commentators and Conservative councillors all having been rejected. This suggests the 121,000 registered supporters could include several thousand Tory infiltrators, as well as supporters of other parties seeking to have a vote in the election.”
Hinting that Mr Burnham could launch a legal challenge to the result if he fails to win the leadership election, the letter adds: “We are also concerned that given the party’s limited resources and the effort required to investigate applicants, this could result in the integrity of the contest being called into question, and the outcome subject to legal challenge.”
Read the full letter below.
Labour leadership: The Contenders
Labour leadership: The Contenders
1/2 Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn started off as the rank outsider in the race to replace Ed Miliband and admitted he was only standing to ensure the left of the party was given a voice in the contest. But the Islington North MP, who first entered Parliament in 1983, is now the firm favourite to be elected Labour leader on September 12 after a surge in left-wing supporters signing up for a vote.
2/2 Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham started out as the front-runner in the leadership election, seen as the candidate of the left until Jeremy Corbyn entered the race. The former Cabinet minister has found himself squeezed between the growing populism of Corbyn’s radical agenda and the moderate, centre-left Yvette Cooper, not knowing which way to turn. It has attracted damaging labels such as ‘flip-flop Andy’, most notably over his response to the Government’s Welfare Bill. He remains hopeful he can win enough second preference votes to take him over the 50 per cent threshold ahead of Corbyn.
Responding to warnings that the leadership contest could be the subject of a legal challenge, acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said:“Because this is the first time we have operated these new rules for electing a Labour leader we have acted constantly on legal advice, we have taken legal advice every step of the way and I am absolutely certain that no court would decide that we had done anything other than apply the rules in a rigorous, fair, robust and even-handed way.
"So whoever is elected they will be legally elected and that the result will stand.”
A Labour party spokesman added: "We hold regular meetings and calls with candidate teams to update them on the process and will continue to do so.
"The Labour Party has a robust system to prevent fraudulent or malicious applications.
"All applications to join the Labour Party as a member, affiliate or supporter are verified and those who are identified by our verification team as being candidates, members or supporters of another political party will be denied a vote."
Mr Burnham's intervention comes after Labour HQ was accused of conducting a "purge" of left-wing supporters in a last ditch attempt to prevent Mr Corbyn from winning the election.
Hundreds of people who signed up to take part in the vote received emails from party HQ informing them they would be barred from voting because they did not support the “aims and values” of the Labour party. This is on top of over 1,200 people who have already been disqualified.
But many claim they have never been a member of any other party, have supported Labour in the past and have come back in the hope of electing Mr Corbyn as leader.
Read the full letter from Andy Burnham's campaign team to Iain McNicol, Labour's General Secretary:
There has been extensive media coverage in recent days regarding the procedural elements of the leadership elections. We warmly welcome the fact that the process has been opened up, thus enabling so many rank and file Labour supporters to have a say in the future of our party.
There do however remain concerns about potential Tory infiltration on a large scale, with a Conservative MP, Conservative media commentators, and Conservative councillors all having been rejected. This suggests the 121,000 registered supporters could include several thousand Tory infiltrators, as well as supporters of other parties seeking to have a vote in the election.
While we accept the party has processes in place, there is potentially more that can be done by the party nationally and regionally as well as by local CLPs to exclude such infiltrators. We are also concerned that given the party's limited resources and the effort required to investigate applicants, this could result in the integrity of the contest being called into question, and the outcome subject to legal challenge.
The meeting on 11 August was helpful in bringing together the candidate teams to discuss the leadership election, to brief us on your plans, as well as take suggestions from us. To wait till 1 September for the next conference call with the teams when there are so many concerns is allowing the issue to drift, and potentially leaving insufficient time for the party to act.
We are therefore writing to ask you to call an urgent meeting of candidate teams early next week to discuss this matter further, to brief us on progress being made, and to consider recommendations from the campaign teams. This meeting should include representatives of all leadership and deputy leadership campaign teams, and should be a face-to-face meeting with those unable to participate joining by phone. We also believe that representatives of the Procedures Committee should be in attendance at the meeting.
Given the interest, we have shared this letter with the other leadership campaign teams. I await your early response.
Michael Dugher, Campaign Chair & John Lehal, Campaign Director, Andy4LeaderReuse content