The Labour authorities have been accused of bending the rules in the party’s leadership contest to help allies of Jeremy Corbyn after allowing Rebecca Long Bailey to sidestep a significant breach.
At a meeting on January 6 the committee responsible for deciding party rules decreed that all MPs were forbidden from sending out any literature to local members saying which candidate they were backing.
Some party insiders saw that decision — by the procedure committee of the ruling national executive committee — as an attempt to hamstring Keir Starmer, who has the backing of far more MPs than any of his rivals.
Then just days later it emerged that one MP had already breached the rule by sending out literature to her local party: Ms Long Bailey, who is seen as the “continuity Corbyn” candidate having strongly supported outgoing leader.
In theory the shadow business secretary could have faced sanctions from the NEC, but instead the group hastily convened a fresh meeting of its procedures committee.
This time the group decided to change the rules once again in a way that would let Ms Long Bailey off the hook.
Jennie Formby, general secretary — and a senior Corbynista — wrote to the candidates on January 9 to tell them that “a candidate” had wrongly used a list of CLP members to tell them about their candidacy.
She did not name Ms Long Bailey but said: “Elected representatives or their staff must not use their access to members contact information to communicate about the election including the promotion of a preferred candidate. Any breach of this may result in a sanction determined by the procedure committee.”
But she went on to say that the procedure committee had reconsidered and now believed it was “reasonable” for leadership candidates to contact members of their own parties — but not other MPs.
The tweaking of the rules to benefit Ms Long Bailey has been criticised by some MPs from rival campaigns.
“It’s clear the Labour party is making it up as it goes along — they are deliberately engineering the rules in favour of a certain candidate. That goes against the basic sense of fair play that Labour members expect,” said Wes Streeting, who ran the unsuccessful campaign of Jess Phillips, who dropped out last week.
Mr Streeting argued that Ms Long Bailey already had an organisational advantage because Momentum has huge amounts of data from two previous leadership elections.
“If you want to be the leader of the Labour party — and believe you can win a general election — you should be should be able to fight by the same rules with fair access to members, as a fundamental principle,” he said.
A Labour source described the story as “nonsense”, saying: “All candidates are being treated equally and fairly, and to suggest otherwise is wrong and offensive”.
One ally of Ms Long Bailey said that other candidates had informed members of their CLPs that they were standing to be Labour leader. In reality however they only did so after the rules were changed.
But another MP said: “It’s an utterly blatant attempt to fix the rules for Becky, and really just goes to show how far the machine is bending over backwards to keep the Corbyn clique in power.”
Delegates from Unison — which backs Sir Keir for the leadership — proposed at the procedure committee on January 6 that all data should be shared with candidates from the start of the contest.
The motion was overturned by other members of the committee, giving Ms Long Bailey a “head start” — in the words of one of her allies — because of her backing from Momentum.