Labour set to axe women-only lists

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Labour leaders will risk a new internal backlash today over the expected decision of the National Executive Committee to abandon the policy of reserving safe seats for women. The NEC is "almost certain" to agree not to appeal against an industrial tribunal ruling that the policy was unlawful.

Nigel Harris, a trade union NEC member, said yesterday: "I would be very, very surprised if we decided to appeal. We did have a policy that was fully supported, but we should be big enough to accept the ruling."

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, hinted 10 days ago that he wanted to drop the matter. Asked by David Frost on BBC TV if he was pleased because the industrial tribunal had disposed of an awkward problem for him, Mr Blair said: "You said that, not me."

But supporters of positive discrimination for women in the party are expected to oppose the decision. Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey, wrote in Tribune last week: "The tribunal's decision should be appealed because it has some bizarre implications. Just being a candidate for any public office is now to be considered a profession."

A Leeds industrial tribunal ruled earlier this month that Labour's policy of reserving half its "winnable" seats for women contravened the Sex Discrimination Act and the European Equal Treatment Directive.

The ruling does not affect the 37 women candidates already chosen from all-women shortlists, but 14 further all-women selections will now be abandoned.

Clare Short, Labour's transport spokeswoman and the NEC member who led the campaign for women's quotas, argues the party has already achieved a great leap forward. She points out there will be a record number of women MPs after the next election as a result of the policy.