Millionaire donor in UK court bid to fix Labour leadership election
Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, Jul 25 2016
Michael Foster on the BBC soon after heckling Corbyn in September. (BBC/You Tube)
A millionaire Labour donor is taking the party to court on Tuesday in a bid to remove incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn from the ballot for this summer’s leadership election. Michael Foster is a former showbusiness agent whose clients have included actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Hugh Grant and radio host Chris Evans. Foster is also the man who heckled Corbyn at a Labour Friends of Israel reception last year. Foster screamed in response to Corbyn’s speech at the event, which took place in September soon after Corbyn swept to victory:
Oi! Oi! Say the word ‘Israel!’
A veteran campaigner for Palestinian rights, Corbyn had called for the siege of Gaza to be lifted. This so incensed Foster that he stood up on his chair and tried to shout him down. Soon after, he explained to the BBC that what had outraged him was Corbyn’s “talk of Palestine” and “talk of the siege of Gaza.”
Foster ran for parliament in 2015 as a Labour candidate in Cornwall, but failed to win the seat from the ruling Conservative Party. Labour Friends of Israel did not reply to an email asking what Foster’s involvement with the group is, if any. Foster could not be reached for comment. During his campaign in 2015, Foster reportedly harassed a rival candidate at an election debate. In a discussion of a proposed tax on mansions, Loveday Jenkin of Cornish party Mebyon Kernow had pointed out that Foster lives in a $2m house in Cornwall. Foster reportedly responded:
You cunt! If you pick on me again I will destroy you!
Jenkin told the newspaper:
He clearly has an anger management problem, and no understanding of the problems affecting Cornish people.
Foster denied the reports, but admitted to being an “aggressive agent” with a “legendary temper” so intense that he once broke his own finger “while tapping on a table to make a point, so forcefully that the bone snapped.” During his failed 2015 election bid, Foster enlisted celebrity friends, some of whom made videos supporting him.
British TV actor Ross Kemp also recently made a video for “Saving Labour,” a hastily formed group which has been involved in a failed effort to oust Corbyn as leader. The coup was initially launched in June by right-wing Labour MP Margaret Hodge who tabled a motion of no-confidence in Corbyn. It peaked with a string of resignations from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. These lawmakers then piled massive amounts of pressure on Corbyn to step down. Corbyn refused, citing his overwhelming mandate from Labour Party members and supporters. A leadership challenge was launched, and Corbyn now faces Labour MP Owen Smith as his sole opponent in an election contest which will be decided in September. Were Corbyn to be removed from the ballot by Foster’s legal action, it would leave Smith, a former lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, as the only candidate in the leadership election, making any democratic vote redundant.
Earlier this month Labour’s national executive decided that party rules stipulate the standing leader automatically goes onto the ballot in the event of a challenge. This means Corbyn does not need the support of 51 Labour MPs or members of the European Parliament, unlike challengers. Foster’s attempt to reverse this decision seems like the last gasp of the failed coup. According to one expert, it is unlikely to succeed. The register of members interests shows that Foster made a $13k donation and a further $13k interest-free loan to Labour MP Liz Kendall last summer, to support her failed bid in last year’s leadership election. Widely perceived as the Blairite continuity candidate, Kendall came last, with a humiliating 4.5% of the vote. Foster also donated another $9k to Kendall in December. Foster has reportedly donated more than $500k to the Labour Party over the years, including about $156k to his local Labour Party in Cornwall, which he reportedly rules with a “firm smack of command.”