Modernisers retain hold in NEC poll

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Labour modernisers and right-wingers retained their grip on the ruling national executive committee in yesterday's annual elections.

Jack Straw, the home affairs spokesman, fell victim to a rule change to boost the number of women in top party posts which saw Mo Mowlam, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, elected for the first time.

While the sprinkling of leftwingers across all three sections of the 24-strong executive executive remains a distinct minority, the two left wing MPs who retained their places in the constituency section - Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover, and Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington - improved their vote.

Another feature of the results was the improved position of Gordon Brown, the shadow chancellor, moving up from third place to second. David Blunkett, under fire from some activists for shifting policy on grant maintained schools, dropped from second to third. Like last year, Robin Cook, the shadow foreign secretary and chairman of the national policy forum, topped the poll.

Mr Straw lost his place because three of the seven votes for the constituency section had to be cast for women. In the absence of the rule Ms Abbott, who polled fewer votes than Ms Mowlam, would have lost her place. The third woman, Harriet Harman, retained last year's fourth place.

Mr Straw said he had expected the result - although the votes had been cast prior to his controversial speech on "squeegy merchants" and aggressive begging. (There was a protest over the speech outside his hotel yesterday.)"I supported the move to increase the number of women on the NEC and I am delighted that Mo is going on it," he said.

Ms Mowlam, a Blairite moderniser, said: "I am very pleased to have the chance to be a member of the NEC." Strongly backing the women's quota, she said: "We are serious about trying to get better representation for women."

Margaret Beckett, spokeswoman for health, topped the poll in the women's section. Joan Lestor, the "soft" left overseas aid spokeswoman, also kept her place.

t The new executive: Union section - Dan Duffy, TGWU (3,700,000 votes); Diana Holland, TGWU (3,685,000); Vernon Hince, RMT (3,685,000); John Mitchell, GPMU (3,683,000); Mary Turner, GMB (3,659,000); Maggie Jones, Unison (3,639,000); Margaret Wall, MSF (3,611,000); Alan Johnson, CWU (3,607,000); Bill Connor, Usdaw (3,594,000); Nigel Harris, AEEU (3,571,000); Richard Rosser, TSSA (2,955,000); Christine Wilde, Unison (1,488,000). Socialist Societies - John Evans (43,000). Constituency Labour Parties - Robin Cook (85,670); Gordon Brown (79,371); David Blunkett (75,984); Harriet Harman (69,092); Dennis Skinner (64,288); Marjorie Mowlam (53,578); Diane Abbott (45,653). Women (results as percentage of total cast) - Margaret Beckett (18.73 per cent); Joan Lestor (18.28 per cent); Diana Jeuda (17.84 per cent); Clare Short (17.15 per cent); and Brenda Etchells (14.68 per cent).