Row over use of Bedlington working men's club as a polling station

Conservatives in Northumberland are demanding a review of the use of a site with apparent links to the Labour party as a polling station

Netherton Workmans Social Club in Bedlington, Northumberland
Richard Wearmouth, Chairman of Morpeth and Wansbeck Conservative Association outside Netherton Workmans Social Club in Bedlington, Northumberland. Richard is unhappy that the Social Club is being used as a polling station

Conservatives have called for a review of the use of a working men’s club as a polling station.

Tories are demanding the club at Bedlington, Northumberland, not be used in future, given they believe it has a “direct affiliation” to the Labour party.

They say supporters and others feel “uncomfortable” voting there given its apparent political leanings and that they “would not dream” of Conservative clubs in the county being used.

However, Labour accused them of “sour grapes” following their third place finish at the recent European elections in the region, and said parties have the chance to protest against polling station venues before votes are cast.

The club confirmed it is used by one Labour councillor to host surgeries, but insisted it has no affiliation with Labour and that is it politically neutral.

The authority which conducts elections in Northumberland said it hosts polls at a number of social clubs.

The calls for a review relate to the use of Bedlington Netherton Social Club and have been lodged with Northumberland County Council.

They have come from the Morpeth and Wanbseck Conservatives (MWC) acting on a complaint from a local resident.

MWC chairman Richard Wearmouth said he belived the Netherton site might - like other working men’s clubs - pay a subscription to the Labour party.

“It might have people less inclined to go in and vote, I do not know. In Bedlington there is more people voting Conservative in increasing numbers. We find that anything can disincentivise people to vote.”

A spokesperson for the Labour group on Northumberland County Council said: “The county council makes a non political decision to designate polling stations and they follow electoral law when making that decision.

“Political parties generally have a right to highlight issues with polling stations before elections.”

A spokesman for the county council added: “The location was swapped from a mobile classroom at St Benet Biscop High School due to it not being accessible by wheelchair.

“Polling stations are chosen due to their location and accessibility. In Northumberland we use a wide variety of locations that include churches, pubs and a football club.

“The elections team is always happy to receive alternative suggestions on location, however this is the first complaint they are aware of after changing the location over three years ago.”

Ian Rosemurgey, secretary of the Netherton club, said Labour county councillor Terry Johnstone holds his surgery there once a month.

But he added: “We are politically neutral and we are affiliated to the CIU (Club and Institue Union), not Labour, Conservative or anything like that.”

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