POLITICS

Jeremy Corbyn Campaign Warned To Withdraw 'Baseless' Claims That Party HQ Is Biased Towards Owen Smith

Allegations of pro-Smith bias are “categorically untrue”

11/08/2016 08:51 | Updated 11 August 2016
Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The bitter row over Labour’s leadership contest has deepened after the party’s ruling body demanded that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign withdraw claims of bias towards Owen Smith.

In a letter obtained by HuffPostUK, NEC chair Paddy Lillis has urged the Corbyn camp to stop making “baseless allegations about party staff” and party general secretary Iain McNicol.

“Over the past few weeks I have become increasingly alarmed by both the public and private concerns being raised by your team regarding the conduct and integrity of the General Secretary and the Labour Party staff during this leadership contest,” he writes.

The Labour leader’s team have alleged that McNicol had given Smith – but not Corbyn - advance sight of the questions at the first party hustings in Cardiff.

Corbyn supporters have also complained that the Smith campaign had unfair earlier access to members’ emails and other data.

Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith

However, the letter from Lillis states that the allegation about Smith being given advance notice of the hustings questions was “completely unsubstantiated and categorically untrue”.

“The questions for these events are sourced from members and supporters and are then selected by independent moderators. In the case of Cardiff, by the ITV Wales correspondent, Catrin Jones,” he writes.

On the data row, the letter adds that the reason the Smith camp had slightly earlier access to data was because they had paid up on time for the access, whereas the Corby campaign had delayed sending their payment.

The letter ends: “As a long standing member of the NEC I have worked closely with the General Secretary and party staff over the years. I have always found them tirelessly dedicated to the Labour Party and utterly professional in everything they do.”

HuffPostUK
HuffPostUK

Jon Lansman told HuffPostUK that it was clear that Paddy Lillis has been “misinformed about the content of my representations to Iain McNicol”.

“I did not allege that “staff had given one candidate team advance sight of questions”, but merely sought assurances. Unfortunately, Iain’s assertion that the “moderator or staff have not, and will never, pass on questions to either candidate or their teams” weren’t accompanied by the more detailed assurances I sought about the exact selection and handling of the questions,” he said.

Lansman added that “Labour Party members and the general public can draw their own conclusions about those things. Indeed they have done so already, and for the most part it is not a favourable one”.

“The reason I raised these precise questions and said “I have reason to believe that our concerns are justified” is that it had been suggested to us by a confidential source who had previously supplied accurate information that it would be advisable to do so. We hope that raising our concerns have been sufficient to deter any unfair conduct of the party’s hustings.”

The second hustings meeting is in Gateshead tonight.

The letter comes as Labour’s HQ today appeals this week’s court ruling that the NEC had acted unlawfully in setting a “freeze date” of January for eligibility for members in the leadership election.

Corbyn says the freeze date is undemocratic, cuts out tends of thousands of new members and is a waste of much-needed party funds.

HuffPostUK has been told by party sources that an estimated 60% of the members who joined since January are Corbyn supporters and 40% Smith supporters.

Today’s court appeal, which was heavily criticised by the Corbyn team, comes amid increasingly acrimonious relations between deputy leader Tom Watson and the Labour leader’s campaign.

Former Shadow Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer claimed that if the appeal failed, the NEC could face further legal action. But Corbyn supporters said the courts had upheld the principle that new members had been promised a vote.

Watson on Wednesday sent a dossier to the Corbyn campaign detailing how far-left “Trotskyist entryists” are infiltrating the party, and called on the leader to say that such groups should not be allowed to join Labour.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive
Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn

And today Watson posted on his Facebook page a video of Socialist Party veteran Peter Taaffe declaring “We said to the left organisations, particularly to Momentum, we want to collaborate with you, in a program to renovate the Labour movement

“Yes we are the separate party, but let us try and organise now, a new form of organisation…It’s a Bolshevik programme, by the way. It’s Militant’s programme of the past.”

The video, made last month, makes clear that Momentum refused the offer and instead asked Taafe to “dissolve” his party.

In a separate move, the Owen Smith campaign today called on McNicol to extend the leadership race – which is due to end on September 21- by a fortnight.

Kate Green, Chair of the Smith campaign, warned of the need for more time to send information to members who joined after January.  Ballot papers are sent out from August 22.

“Giving some members as little as a week between confirming their vote and ballot papers landing is not sufficient time for them to gather the information they will wish to have about the candidates before they cast their vote.”

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