Labour rejects claims leader race has been 'infiltrated' by hard left
The British Labour Party hierarchy rejected demands last night for its fractious leadership contest to be suspended following claims that large numbers of hard-left "infiltrators" and Tory mischief-makers have signed up with the common aim of electing Jeremy Corbyn.
Amid mounting alarm within the party mainstream that the influx could tip the result in his direction, the Islington North MP said the rise in membership was prompted by the enthusiasm of young activists becoming engaged in politics.
Mr Corbyn sidestepped questions yesterday about whether he was a Marxist, but insisted he was not championing a "revolutionary" policy platform.
Labour has gained 52,000 members since Ed Miliband's election defeat, pushing the total above 250,000, while another 18,000 have paid £3 (€4.20) to become "registered supporters" with the right to vote while the unions have signed up 25,000 "affiliate members".
At the current rate, some 140,000 new activists could be entitled to vote on Mr Miliband's successor by the registration deadline of August 12.
Two senior MPs called yesterday for Harriet Harman, the party's acting leader, to suspend the contest to enable careful checks to be carried out on the new members.
John Mann, the MP for Bassetlaw, said: "It is becoming a farce, with long-standing members... in danger of getting trumped by people who have opposed the Labour Party and want to break it up.
"Some of it is the militant tendency types coming back in."
Graham Stringer, the MP for Blackley and Broughton, said he feared Conservative activists were trying to influence the outcome.
A suspension was ruled out by a Labour spokeswoman, who said the party had a "robust system to prevent fraudulent or malicious applications".
She said: "All applications are verified against the Electoral Register and any who are identified by our verification team or by local Labour branches as not sharing the aims or values of the Labour Party will be denied a vote."
On BBC TV, Mr Corbyn played down the significance of the new arrivals in Labour ranks, saying: "The entryism I see is lots of young people who were hitherto not very excited by politics coming in for the first time."
Calling for the renationalisation of the railways and energy companies, he argued that Labour lost the election because it was "too close to big business" and "too close to economic orthodoxy".
Pressed on whether he was a Marxist, he replied: "I haven't thought about that for a long time." He described Karl Marx as "a fascinating figure who observed a great deal and from whom we can learn a great deal".
Andy Burnham, regarded as the leadership frontrunner before the surge in support for Mr Corbyn, said he did not believe there had been "wide-scale" infiltration.
"Let's have a debate about the party's future. It is engaging a lot of people and beginning to attract a lot of interest and that's a good thing for the Labour Party," the shadow Health Secretary said.
The former cabinet minister Alan Milburn said a Corbyn victory would mean "political oblivion" and a "decade or more in the political wilderness".
Other senior figures have warned that the party could split if Mr Corbyn emerges victorious on September 12.