CONSERVATIVES have accused Labour of breaking election rules in the Hyde Werneth ward after their campaign leaflets were found inside the polling station at St George’s Church.
There were also claims Labour breached the number of tellers they were permitted at St George’s as the Conservatives have reported the alleged irregularities to both the police and returning officer.
But they are claims refuted by Labour who describe it as sour grapes after the Conservatives lost the seat by five votes following a recount.
Outgoing Conservative leader John Bell, in whose ward the incidents happened, launched a scathing attack on Labour as he demanded an inquiry and hopes the matter is reported to the Electoral Commission.
He said: “It is not the first time we have had shenanigans at St George’s and that polling booth really needs looking at carefully.
“There is no doubt Labour broke electoral law and I don’t want a situation like Tower Hamlets happening here.”
Tower Hamlets acquired a notorious reputation and its mayor was removed from office after being found guilty of “corrupt and illegal practices” including electoral fraud and bribery.
Hyde Werneth Conservatives posted on its Facebook page: “St George’s Polling Station. Labour leaving election leaflets within the station. Irrelevant of political persuasion, this is an absolute disgrace and has been reported to the police and returning officer”.
Cllr Bell continued: “I hope the Conservative group takes up the matter with the Electoral Commission as what has happened is against the law.
“I am sick of people cheating and the way the postal vote was handled was like a banana republic.
“The standard of politics has gone down the sewer and it is a good time to be getting out.”
Cllr Phil Chadwick, a Conservative councillor in Hyde Werneth, confirmed Cllr Ruth Welsh, Conservative candidate Paul Molloy’s agent, had reported the matter to Tameside Council borough solicitor Sandra Stewart and Linda Walker, election officer for Hyde.
“We were absolutely seething, annoyed and furious. I view it as cheating,” he said.
Cllr Chadwick added at the time the Correspondent went to press the Conservative group was “still seeking legal advice and the situation was still ongoing”.
Cllr Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour’s election co-ordinator for Stalybridge and Hyde, explained how the leaflets were left inside the polling station.
“One of our team went to vote and, knowing he could not take leaflets inside, left them on the table in the foyer only for a few moments when he voted. They were not where the polling booths were,” he explained.
He also denied they exceeded the number of tellers at either St George’s or Hyde Town Hall.
“We put in the correct number of tellers and, if not, they would have been moved on,” he continued.
Cllr Fitzpatrick continued: “Don’t tell me people haven’t made up their minds by the time they arrive to vote.
“We ran a good campaign and got our voters out. The Conservatives are kicking off because they lost by five votes and disheartened to lose as much as we were elated to win. They want to blame everybody but themselves.
“It was unfortunate the leaflets were left there, but they were in the foyer and not where polling took place.
“I can understand why they are upset, but we have done nothing illegal. The returning officer would have been on to us if we had.
“We won the seat fair and square and it was about putting in the work up to and including election day.”
Tameside Council said: “The returning officer role and that of deputies are personal roles and the council doesn’t speak on their behalf.
“However, you should be aware that neither the returning officer or the Electoral Commission are the investigating or enforcing authority for any alleged breaches of electoral law.
“All candidates and agents sign up to the code of conduct for campaigners – www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/179741/Code-of-conduct-for-campaigners-2015.pdf – and para 4.3 makes it clear any complainant is advised to raise it with the police who are the appropriate authority.
“No evidence of any alleged breaches has been provided to the returning officer or his staff including deputies, inspector and presiding officer and all complainants are advised throughout the elections to take up any issues they have with the police.”