It's not one rule for them, another for Jeremy, court hears

Hayley Kirton
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The court has been asked to decide if Corbyn's name has been allowed on the ballot by proper means (Source: Getty)

Jeremy Corbyn's name on the Labour leadership ballot fell into further dispute today, after lawyers argued there was "not a trace" of legal grounds for a different set of rules to apply to him than to his challengers.

Corbyn's bid to retain his position as Labour party leader has been full of controversy. The Labour party rules require anybody who wishes to run for leadership to obtain the backing of at least a fifth of the party's MPs and MEPs.

Corbyn, whose parliamentary party has effectively deserted him after he refused to stand down following the Brexit vote, was unlikely to meet this requirement.

However, Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) subsequently voted that Corbyn, as current leader of the party, was not subject to these backing requirements, and would be automatically included on the ballot.

Lawyers facing off against Corbyn are arguing that the rules do not scrap the requirement for the incumbent leader to obtain backing from a particular number of MPs.

Gavin Millar QC, representing Labour donor Michael Foster, who brought the dispute to the high court, said if the wording had been designed to create a different requirements for the current leader, then "we would respectfully suggest that that is so important that it would have been stated in the terms".

Millar added there was "not a trace of the distinction in the rules".

Foster's lawyer also stressed that his client was not attempting to usurp the NEC by bringing a legal case and his actions were not asking for "anything other than a proper application of the rules", which should be decided in a court of law.

Corbyn's name was added to the hearing at the eleventh hour, after the high court decided that his interests differed from that of the first defendant, Labour party general secretary Iain McNicol.

Mark Henderson, the lawyer for McNicol argued that the NEC's decision crucially protected the rights of the members who elected Corbyn as leader last year and the rules should, therefore, be read in a way which would give these people "a chance to vote for that current leader again".

Henderson added this was not a hearing about whether an elected leader was "unchallengeable", as the leader would be forced to face the electorate again as part and parcel of the leadership race.

Henderson highlighted that Foster's legal eagles' interpretation of the rules could potentially result in an uncontested challenger becoming leader of the party because they were popular with their MPs, regardless of what the electorate actually wanted.

A written judgment is expected on Thursday.

At present, the Labour leadership ballot is occupied by Owen Smith and Corbyn, after Angela Eagle withdrew from the race. This is despite Eagle being the original challenger who triggered the leadership showdown.

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