Labour names all-women seat

PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES

Political Correspondent

The east London seat of Bethnal Green and Bow has been named as the final constituency in England and Wales to be forced to draw up a women- only shortlist to choose its Labour parliamentary candidate.

The move, first mooted amid fierce controversy six months ago, brings to 10 the number of constituencies that have had all-women lists imposed on them. It marks the completion of the operation of the quota policy in the current parliament.

The scheme has set Labour on course to achieving around 90 women MPs at the next general election, but it has proved highly controversial.

A proposal in May to insist on a women-only list in the new east London seat caused a storm of protest among some local activitists because the selection of a successor to Peter Shore, the retiring MP for the existing Bethnal Green & Stepney, had already begun, while the procedure would have the effect of excluding Asian male applicants in an area with the highest concentration of Ban-gladeshis in the country.

An embarrassed Labour Party was then forced to disavow a London regional executive committee recommendation to stretch the rules by drawing up an all-black women-only list. A local Bengali woman applicant, Pola Uddin, deputy leader of the local council, Tower Hamlets, appeared to have strong backing among senior party figures.

Rajan Jalal, a councillor and another would-be applicant, said yesterday: "I think it's ... an insult to local democracy. The constituency held a special ballot on this issue. More than 85 per cent of the membership supported an open list."

The decision comes less than a fortnight after the Equal Opportunities Commission decided to back two male would-be MPs in a legal action against Labour challenging the quotas. Peter Jepson and Roger Dyas Elliot are bringing a joint case against the party, to be heard at Leeds industrial tribunal on 11 December.

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