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Labour fights claim it rigged leader ballot

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Labour has denied rigging the ballot to choose the leader of the new County Durham council after five councillors were suspended from holding office by the party.

Chester-le-Street DC deputy leader Simon Henig was nominated at a party meeting on Saturday, but only after the five members at least one of which was expected to stand for the leadership were suspended by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), preventing them from standing.

The action throws the political status of the council into confusion.

Labour won Durham on 1 May with an eight-seat majority and a council spokesman confirmed the suspension of the five placed it under no overall control. But Labour North, the party’s regional branch, claimed the five would still be expected to follow the party whip and vote for Cllr Henig’s appointment when the council holds its first meeting on 23 May.

The five, including Durham CC leader Albert Nugent (Lab) who had confirmed his intention to stand for leader of the new council, were suspended for defying a party decree imposing minimum numbers of female candidates on constituency party branches for this month’s election (LGC, 17 April).

“It has always been made clear there would be an NEC investigation after the elections,” a spokesman for Labour North said. “It is up to the local Labour group who they put in place as leader.”

Meetings are set to take place over the next week to confirm leaders for the four new unitaries that held elections.

Mike Jones (Con), Chester City Council executive member for development, is expected to be unveiled as the leader of Cheshire West & Chester council.

Meanwhile, Macclesfield BC leader Wesley Fitzgerald (Con) was due to be confirmed as leader of Tory-run Cheshire East as LGC went to press on Tuesday.

The Liberal Democrats in Northumberland CC are expected to form a coalition administration next week with Jeff Reid (Lib Dem), leader of Blyth Valley BC Lib Dem group, as leader.

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