Labour rift deepens over women's quotas Blair at odds with

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Political Correspondent

Labour divisions over its women's quota for parliamentary selections grew yesterday as Clare Short, Labour's spokesperson on women, disagreed with Tony Blair and strongly defended the scheme he criticised last month as "not ideal at all".

She also refused to rule out continuing the policy after the next election, in contradiction of the Labour leader's confirmation that he believed it should be dropped.

Mr Blair said at the time: "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."

Responding to yesterday's report in the Independent that the policy was facing a legal challenge, Ms Short dismissed the complainants' chances of success as poor and denied a suggestion on BBC Radio 4's The World at One that Mr Blair was backing away from the scheme, which requires women-only shortlists of candidates in half the party's winnable seats in each region.

Ms Short said the procedure might not be repeated, but insisted: "We will reconsider when we see the outcome of the next Parliament what will be the details of our selection in the round following, as we always do."

Defending the policy as necessary to "transform" Parliament, she said: "In countries all over the world this process is going on because the judgement is that the exclusion of women in very big numbers from parliamentary forums means our democracies are incomplete. The political parties are distorted and they keep throwing up the same kind of men."

Continuing hostility from the Labour rank and file is evident, however, from motions submitted for next month's Labour conference. The motion from the Slough party, which had a women-only list imposed upon it, describes the procedure as "undemocratic and deceitful".

Among the factors described as "particularly offensive" are the fact that the views of 80 per cent of the membership were "totally discounted, rendering the principle of 'one member, one vote' meaningless".