POLITICS
09/09/2015 12:31 BST | Updated 09/09/2015 12:59 BST

Labour Has Closed Its Helpline For Members With Missing Ballots; MPs Angry, Party Cites 'Verification' Needs

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  A Labour Party leadership ballot paper is displayed on August 19, 2015 in London, England. Labour Party members are due to vote in the Party leadership contest with results announced on the 12 September. Left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn widely expected to win.  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Carl Court via Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: A Labour Party leadership ballot paper is displayed on August 19, 2015 in London, England. Labour Party members are due to vote in the Party leadership contest with results announced on the 12 September. Left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn widely expected to win. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Labour HQ has come under fire for its 'unbelievable' decision to close its missing ballot helpline more than 24 hours before the party's leadership election ends.

Andy Burnham's campaign hit out after the party decided to pull the plug on its call centre set up to handle complaints from members worried that they had not got their vote for the contest.

Campaign manager Michael Dugher attacked the move, which follows widespread criticism from activists across the country that they still have not had e-votes.

Some 550,000 people are eligible to vote in the contest, which is being fought by Mr Burnham, Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, and comes to an end at noon on Thursday.

Yet thousands of people say they have not got their votes and one campaign told the Huffington Post UK that ‘hundreds’ of members had contacted them to say they wanted to support them but couldn’t do so.

Guardian columnist John Harris tweeted his displeasure at being robbed of his vote despite years of party membership.

Even senior figures such as David Blunkett hadn't got their ballots as recently as last weekend and the party reissued several thousand votes on Monday in a bid to quell the complaints.

HuffPost UK revealed this week that Tory minister Baroness Altmann had been sent a ballot, even though she was a member of the Government.

nick ferrari

Ferrari pointed to his membership email on a laptop during the exchange

Today, LBC’s Nick Ferrari said he had been given a vote despite being well known to have been approached by the Tories to stand for Mayor of London.

Party HQ sent a reminder email on Tuesday to all those who had not voted - and to those who had said they were disenfranchised – containing a special code to allow them to vote online.

Insiders believe that many ballots had gone to the spam folders of members’ email accounts and say that anyone who had contacted the party by 5pm on Tuesday will be sent a new ballot by ‘close of play today’.

General Secretary Iain McNicol wrote to each of the campaigns on inform them of the decision, stating that the reminder would ‘hopefully pick up any outstanding issues your teams have been contacted about non-receipt of ballot papers”.

His message, seen by HuffPostUK said: “From today the party’s leadership call centre will no longer be accepting calls.

“Callers to the party’s leadership call centre will now receive a recorded message giving essential details of the final issue of ballots by email. In addition it is now too late to amend email addresses to which we send people’s ballots.”

A party official told HuffPost UK that ‘because of verification, it is now too late to reissue ballot papers to different addresses or emails’.

“Anybody who is eligible to vote and needs more help can contact leadership2015@labour.org.uk for more information,” a spokesman said.

The party insists that although it has closed its call centre, the hotline contains a message giving all the information they need.

“Better that than waiting in a phone queue for 15 minutes and people hanging up before they get the information,” a source said. “If they still need to talk we urge them to email us and we will contact them.”

The Yvette Cooper campaign said that the closure of the call centre was 'not ideal' but said its focus was now on getting out the vote of its remaining supporters who had been sent valid ballots.

The BBC reported today that a senior ally of Mr Corbyn had urged him to pull out of the leadership race several weeks ago. The Islington North MP rejected the advice.

Amid reports that upto eight Shadow Cabinet ministers will quit should Mr Corbyn win, Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna today attacked the "vitriol and bile" that had been directed at Ms Kendall by some of Mr Corbyn's supporters.