Record five women in Shadow Cabinet

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JOHN SMITH was last night deciding portfolios for his first Shadow Cabinet, with his party's women MPs expecting him to honour his commitment to exploit fully the talents of 'the many able women who now represent Labour in Parliament'.

Yesterday's elections put a record five women in the Shadow Cabinet. Harriet Harman, the health spokesperson, and Mo Mowlam, who has a City portfolio, came joint sixth among 18 elected places to join Ann Clwyd (overseas aid) and Ann Taylor (environment). Margaret Beckett, as deputy leader, is an ex-officio member.

The party's women MPs complain that the four in the previous Shadow Cabinet were marginalised, with Mrs Taylor, Ms Clwyd and Jo Richardson all placed in second-rank posts without a cabinet minister to shadow. Even Mrs Beckett was only Mr Smith's number two at the Treasury.

While the Tories have only two women in the Cabinet - Virginia Bottomley and Gillian Shephard - they have significant roles, at health and employment.

Dawn Primarolo, chair of the Women's Parliamentary Committee, who scored well as an also- ran in yesterday's election, told the Independent this week: 'Women members will be looking to John Smith's distribution of portfolios as an indication of his commitment.'

Mr Smith said in his leadership acceptance speech last Saturday that Labour had to rid itself of its 'macho style of debate'. Westminster speculation has tipped Gordon Brown, who topped yesterday's poll for the fourth time in five years, as shadow Chancellor, with Tony Blair, who came second, covering the Home Office and Jack Cunningham taking foreign affairs.

Mr Cunningham came only 12th in yesterday's poll, however, and some MPs believed that would allow Mr Blair to take the foreign affairs job, with a woman, possibly Harriet Harman, who is legally qualified and scored well in the poll, taking the home affairs spot.

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Labour's new blood, page 9