Labour keeps up pressure for all-women lists

Liz Davies affair: Party members outraged by veto
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The Independent Online
The vetoing of the left-winger Liz Davies as a Labour candidate threw a shadow over other developments agreed at yesterday's National Executive Committee meeting.

There was an irony that as the NEC declared the south-eastern region of the Labour Party would be expected to have agreed on two women-only shortlists by early or mid-October, Leeds North East constituency party, which had selected Ms Davies from an all-woman list, would be expected to begin its selection process all over again.

Angry party members said that they were "outraged" by the NEC's decision and were considering legal action.

Andy Hollas, the constituency chairman, said: "Liz has done nothing wrong, she has broken no rules and so they have got her on McCarthyite smear tactics. It makes a mockery of democracy."

There were fears on the Labour left last night that the affair presaged systematic opposition to left-wing candidates. But Tom Sawyer, the party general secretary, said there was a difference between Ms Davies - who had been judged on her individual political history - and what he called the "genuine" left in the Labour Party.

Mr Hollas said a meeting of the constituency party would be drafting an emergency resolution to next week's party conference asking it to overturn the decision. Such a resolution is unlikely to succeed because of the weight of union block votes that will be cast in support of the Labour leadership.

It was also made clear by some Leeds North East party members that a significant number of them had been unhappy about the women-only list and had protested by abstaining in the ballot which saw Ms Davies selected.

An unrepentant Clare Short, Labour's spokesperson on women, insisted after yesterday's NEC: "[Liz Davies] was a member of the editorial board of Briefing until after she was selected. I say to anyone who is fair- minded, look at its content. It is vicious, vitriolic, continuous attacks on the Labour Party. No one who supports that is a proper Labour Party candidate. It's all very sad but it's absolutely right."

A failure by the Leeds North East party to abide by the decision could result in the committee imposing a shortlist of candidates on them - a measure the NEC yesterday made clear it would not hesitate to employ in the south-eastern region under the policy of reserving half all safe or winnable seats in each region for women. South-eastern regional officials have until early or mid-October to report back on which two seats should be subject to the quota.

The committee went on to initiate a consultation process between affiliated unions and constituency parties over the future of union sponsorship of MPs. The object is to get local agreements that make it clear that union sponsorship is not linked in any way to any particular MP, but to the constituency party.

The NEC also gave the go-ahead for a preparatory group, to include representatives from both sides of industry, to begin the groundwork for the low pay commission that would advise an incoming Labour government on the level at which to set a minimum wage.