Labour to check Swindon selection vote

JOHN RENTOUL

Political Correspondent

The Labour Party was forced yesterday to promise a full inquiry into alleged ballot-rigging in the vote to choose a candidate for the new parliamentary seat of Swindon North.

The party averted an appearance in the High Court today by agreeing that Michael Wells, an adviser to shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown, would not be endorsed as the candidate at tomorrow's National Executive meeting.

Mr Wells, a 43-year-old television producer, won the ballot by 114 votes to 84 in September, but the defeated candidate, Jim D'Avila, a 45-year- old trade union convenor at the Rover car plant in Swindon, complained of irregularities in the counting of postal votes.

Mr D'Avila's lawyers yesterday said they had declarations from 130 members of the Swindon North party, claiming they had voted for him, and to have affidavits from four members saying they did not use their postal votes in a selection where 69 postal votes were sent out and 67 returned and counted.

Mr D'Avila yesterday attacked Tony Blair, the Labour leader, for failing to act earlier: "The Labour Party can be very strict about compliance with its procedures when it chooses. It seems, however, that when the person who will benefit is close to Gordon Brown, some party officers are prepared to turn a blind eye."

The party said: "They have now provided detailed statements which they have not let us have sight of before. We will, therefore, investigate."

Swindon North is a new seat which would have had an estimated Labour majority of 1.8 per cent at the last election. Mr D'Avila, a local councillor for 20 years, contested Swindon in 1992, when it was won by Conservative Simon Coombs.

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