Mrs Birks, 42, was nominated by the women's section of Eastleigh constituency Labour party, which she chairs. She said she was unconcerned about splitting the opposition vote because the Liberal Democrats could not form an alternative government to the Tories.
The Liberal Democrats are expected to win the Hampshire seat, vacated by the death last month of Stephen Milligan, who had a 17,702 Tory majority.
However, Labour yesterday wheeled out one of its biggest names at Mrs Birks' first press conference. Tony Blair, shadow home secretary, said: 'The Conservatives know that they have already lost. The Liberal Democrats stand for nothing. A vote for them is merely a protest.' Mrs Birks is thought likely to attract a substantial personal following.
Conservative party managers have been urged to get the contest over with next month or at least by 5 May, the date of the council elections. But Tory Euro MPs fear a Liberal Democrat triumph will give Paddy Ashdown a head-start for the European elections on 9 June.
Liverpool-born Mrs Birks, a mother of four, is a senior lecturer at King Alfred's College, Winchester.
1992 election: S Milligan (Con) 38,998 (51.3 per cent); D Chidgey (LD) 21,296 (28.0); Ms J Sugrue (Lab) 15,768 (20.7). Con maj 17,702. Electorate 91,376. Turn-out 82.9 per cent.
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