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Blair hopes to double total of women MPs

Labour's new Clause IV will contain a commitment to equal treatment for women and an end to discrimination, Tony Blair, the party's leader, said yesterday.

Equality for women, he explained, was "an essential part of my vision of the values and ideals of the new Labour Party" and should be "enshrined in our constitution".

His speech, as part of the consultation over Clause IV, came as he underlined that Labour still lagged nine points behind in the women's vote at the last election - a wider gap than the seven points by which it trailed the Tories overall. At present, he said, Labour had 38 women MPs, a figure he hoped to "at least double" after the next election, thanks in part to the party's quota system aimed at ensuring that women fight half the vacant Labour-held seats and half the winnable marginals at the next election.

Labour headquarters yesterday denied that there were mounting difficulties in persuading constituencies to accept the all-women shortlists that this implies. Only two party regions have so far reached full agreement, but of 65 of the seats discussed, 26 or 40 per cent have agreed to all-women lists, a spokesman said.