Blair prepares to drop all-women shortlists

JOHN RENTOUL and

DONALD MACINTYRE

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, yesterday ruled out any further imposition of women parliamentary candidates after the general election and admitted that the process had "not been ideal at all".

Today's meeting of the party's national executive is expected to put off further action to impose female candidates on reluctant local parties at least until after the outcome of an industrial tribunal case brought by Peter Jepson, 44, against the party for alleged breach of the Sex Discrimination Act.

Yesterday Mr Blair confirmed that the policy would not be continued after the general election, and said: "It has given us a number of very strong and very able candidates, but the process has not been ideal at all and that is accepted by the most vociferous supporters of the proposal."

Mr Blair's remarks came on the eve of an expected national executive decision today to defer the endorsement of Liz Davies, selected from an all-woman shortlist in Leeds North East. Ms Davies' selection could be overturned because of complaints against her candidacy.

In an unrelated move the executive is also expected to pave the way for this October's party conference to reduce further the union block vote from 70 to 50 per cent. Mr Blair indicated his strong support for the move yesterday.

On the shortlist policy, which aims to put women into half of Labour's winnable seats, Clare Short, Labour's spokeswoman on women's issues, said: "There have been 35 all-women selections already.

"The next House of Commons will be massively different. There'll be 80 or 90 women Labour MPs. The whole thing is not in crisis."

The national executive has already taken over the selection of a candidate in Slough, where the local Labour Party refused to co-operate with the policy. Mr Jepson wanted to be considered as a candidate for a London constituency. Legal action is now expected to include a claim that he has been excluded from standing in Slough.

Ms Short said she was confident that the party would win the industrial tribunal case, but some party officials have said privately that it would be easier if the party lost.

Uncertainty remains over Bethnal Green and Bow, in east London, where a former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Shore, is retiring. The local party has been asked to choose from an all-woman shortlist, but its members voted by around four to one against the policy in a postal ballot. The local party has been told by regional officials that no decision on their case will be taken until after the industrial tribunal expected to start later this month.

Peter Taverner, Labour agent for Manchester Blackley, called for the policy to be dropped immediately. "It is time to let it wither away," he said.

By-election battle, page 2

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