Commitment to women stays strong

Challenge to Labour: Industrial tribunal ruling will not halt party's drive to modernise selection of candidates
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The drive to increase the number of women MPs will not be reversed by an industrial tribunal's decision that all-female shortlists are illegal, Labour candidates selected from such lists said yesterday.

Women chosen in the 34 constituencies where Labour has held all-women contests said that challenges from disgruntled male applicants are unlikely, and that party members would be unwilling to re-start the selection process.

They pointed out that most of the constituency parties involved had volunteered for all-women shortlists, and that it was only those which had opposed imposition of these lists which had attracted publicity.

But opponents of all-women lists welcomed the decision. Jim Geach, who resigned from the Labour Party in Falmouth and Camborne, Cornwall, over the issue, said he might take his case to an industrial tribunal.

Judy Mallaber, Labour candidate for Amber Valley, in Derbyshire, said: "I think that most party members would be pretty fed up if they had to do what an industrial tribunal told them to do.

"However, I am concerned that it may stop the process in the seats where selection is still in progress. But whatever happens, there are going to be far more women in the next Parliament, and hopefully that will make a difference to the political culture."

The selection procedures in nine constituencies where all-women contests were to have been held have been halted until the Labour Party decides how to react to the ruling by the Leeds tribunal. Six of these are in north-west England, and one each in London, East Anglia and Kent. Pola Uddin, a nominee in the safe Labour seat of Bethnal Green and Bow, in the East End of London, said: "It is too early to say whether it is a setback. I can't really comment because obviously I have a personal interest in the process.

"But I was surprised by the ruling. I would think that we would not have started such a process without having sought proper legal advice."

The imposition of a women-only list in the new east London seat triggered protests among local activists as the selection process had already begun, and as the list would exclude Asian male applicants in an area with the highest concentration of Bangladeshis in the country.

Sally Keeble, who was selected for Northampton North, said: "It was a surprising decision but in terms of most of the constituencies such as mine, they had all-women lists by choice and there is wholehearted support for it."

Margaret Moran, candidate for Luton South, said: "Most of us are very disappointed and very surprised by the decision. I think that the party will be looking at an appeal, because we took legal advice and had the agreement of the Equal Opportunities Commission. But I don't think that it is going to be a major setback."

Candy Atherton, the first candidate to be selected from a voluntary all- women list when she was selected in Falmouth and Camborne, said: "A year ago all-women shortlists were an issue down here but now they are not."