Tories charged to match Labour women's triumph

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Both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties have been challenged to increase the number of women candidates in the next election after Labour's success on May1.

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality, has confirmed that Labour's policy of having all-women shortlists played a crucial part in its overall success, which led to the record number of women entering parliment. Mary-Ann Stephenson, a spokeswoman for the society, said: "The Labour Party has shown with the women shortlists what can be done. It wasn't the fact that Labour did really well that got the women in. The challenge is now to the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to take positive action to address the problem they have clearly got ... they are not selecting them in seats they can win."

A breakdown of the election results showed that in seats where the party had not expected to win, the women candidates did nowhere near as well as men by 11 to 55. The crucial results were in seats targeted by Labour, where 43 women were returned and 42 men. Even if Labour had only won the key seats it would have returned 90 women MPs, about a quarter of its intake. The party achieved a record 101.

Not all Labour candidates had been selected when the all-women shortlists were ruled illegal and stopped. But some last-minute adoptions of women in seats of retiring male MPs meant Labour succeeded in having female candidates in around half its target seats.

The new intake of Labour women included Barbara Follett, credited with improving the party's image, Ruth Kelly, who a month after the election became the first new mother of the Commons with a baby son, Clare Ward, who at 24 became Britain's youngest MP, and Oona King, who became the second black woman MP.

The Tories, who fielded fewer women, have 13 female MPs and 152 men and the Liberal Democrats three women and 43 men. Seven of the 13 Tory women were MPs before the election and the other six stood in seats where the sitting MP had retired.

For the Liberal Democrats, Ray Michie was MP for Argyle and Bute in the last Parliament, and Jackie Ballard stood in a key seat, Taunton, requiring a swing of only 2.6 per cent. Jenny Tonge was not in a key seat, but the swing of 9.7 per cent away from the Conservatives was more than the 7.1 per cent she needed to win Richmond Park.

Ms Stephenson said: "The failure of the policies of the other two parties to increase their proportion of women MPs is particularly clear, with the Liberal Democrats, who only returned two new women out of a total of their 29 gains. If you leave things as they are, an increase in the number of women won't happen of its own accord."

A spokesman for Conservative Central Office said it had already decided to review adoption procedures and had abolished its existing list of potential candidates. "There has been a great deal of demand that the list should contain a wider spectrum of people - including women, ethnic minorities and a wider age range," he said.

There was no Liberal Democrat spokesman available to comment.