Jeremy Corbyn will automatically be on the Labour leadership ballot, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has ruled.
Corbyn had faced the difficult task of having to scrape together the nominations of 51 MPs and MEPs in order to fight off a challenge from Angela Eagle that follows mass resignations from his Shadow Cabinet.
The NEC decided that he could defend his position without being nominated, after an hours-long meeting at Labour headquarters that saw NEC members decide to vote by secret ballot for fear of reprisals or harassment from Corbyn supporters.
The vote was 18-14 in Corbyn’s favour and came after Mark Henderson QC was reportedly barred from presenting legal advice that was favourable to Corbyn while another lawyer, James Goudie, presented advice that was not favourable to him.
It was reported that the NEC’s 17-15 vote in favour of a secret ballot was swayed by two female members who feared intimidation of recent days. Eagle’s constituency office had a brick thrown through its window last night.
Eagle, who yesterday launched her bid to oust Corbyn - has the required number of nominations.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith, who is also considering a bid, would have to come up with the 51 votes as well.
But Corbyn’s automatic place on the ballot means he is well placed to win, given his support among the party members, especially if Smith runs and splits the anti-Corbyn vote.
But there is good news for anti-Corbyn MPs. Non-Labour members wishing to vote in the contest this time will have to pay £25, not £3 as they were last time.
The ability to vote so cheaply in the previous election was regarded as part of the reason why Corbyn won, with backers of more left wing parties able to influence the outcome.
Members must also have been in the party for at least six months, disqualifying the tens of thousands who have joined in recent days.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “”The NEC meeting has concluded. The timetable for the contest for the Leader of the Labour Party has been agreed by the NEC and will commence on Thursday.
“The timetable will be published then.”
After hearing Corbyn would be on the ballot. Eagle said: “I am glad the NEC has come to a decision. I welcome the contest ahead and I am determined to win it.”
The meeting lasted close to six hours, beginning at 2pm and the decision being announced close to 8pm.
Corbyn walked out of the building afterwards to applauding fans and journalists desperate to question him.
He told them he was “delighted” by what happened and supporters began chanting “Jeremy! Jeremy! Jeremy!”
Their cries drowned Corbyn out after he said: “An incumbent is automatically on the ballot paper.”
Momentum, the pro-Corbyn movement labelled a “party within a party” by its critics, tweeted: “Jeremy’s on the ballot and we’re going to win!”
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of union the TSSA said: “I am glad to see cool heads and good sense have prevailed at today’s Labour Party NEC and should there now be a leadership contest that Jeremy will indeed be allowed to be on the ballot in accordance with party rules.
He added: “Lets face it, with the Tories united behind Teresa May and our NEC now united behind Jeremy Corbyn it would be better for our members, better for our party and most of all, better for our country, if all sides of the party now come together agree that we have more in common than that which divides us and work together to deliver a united and effective opposition to Theresa May’s Tory government.
“But if there is yet to be a leadership contest, let it be conducted in a comradely manner and we at the TSSA look forward to supporting Jeremy continue to develop and expose his positive programme for the next Labour government.”
William Hill immediately offered odds on the race, saying Corbyn was the favourite.
They gave Corbyn 1/2, 2/1 on Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Smith - who has not formally entered the race - and 7/1 on Eagle.
The bookies initial odds on Corbyn becoming leader at all when he entered last year’s race were 200/1.
Pro-Corbyn MP Paul Flynn tweeted that Eagle should abandon her “damaging” bid in the face of a “predictable” result.