Emily's List candidates want `seats we can win' winnable seats

`Seventy-seven years after women won the right to vote, the House of Co mmons is still 91 per cent male'
Click to follow
The late John Smith last night became the first man to be honoured by Emily's List UK, the body devoted to helping Labour women into Parliament. The Emily Awards, made at a £125-a-head dinner at the Cafe Royal, London, marked the list's second birthday, the 77th anniversary of women's suffrage in Britain and the official presentation of the 11 women already selected for sponsorship by the organisation.

Betty Boothroyd, the Commons Speaker; Clare Short MP, Labour spokesperson on women; and Pauline Green MEP, leader of the socialist group at the European Parliament, also received prizes.

In an evening of contrasts, the likes of Fay Weldon, Cleo Laine, Claire Rayner and Barbara Castle were on hand to deliver the awards, with Rude Women comic Jo Brand compering, as grass-roots Labour activists dined alongside corporate sponsors.

"It's not all Labour `luvvies'," said Julia Hobsbawn, the publicity consultant. The event made a profit, moreover, which will be used to enable another 11 women to claim up to £1,000 in the travel, overnight and childcare expenses involved in the arduousmatter of seeking a parliamentary seat.

The fact remains, however, that the 11 comparative unkowns selected for help from Emily's List most still face an uphill struggle to be selected as prospective candidates. "We want decent, winnable seats," Jean Black, the organisation's treasurer, declared.

There was an air of tension as the 11 lined up for a pre-dinner photocall. Pre-awards publicity has inflamed the clash of views within Labour over the merits of specifically promoting women's prospects.

While Mr Smith, the party leader until his death last spring, would have been genuinely honoured to have been able to receive his Emily Man award in person, many MPs and grassroots activists remain opposed to all-women shortlists.

Anti-quota diehards are quick to condemn, singling out Barbara Follett, the list's founder and former Shadow Cabinet image consultant, as the target of complaints of Labour concentrating too much effort on gloss and publicity.

Their opponents insist that glamorous productions such as last night's are a crucial part of the enormous consciousness-raising effort that is still needed.

Ms Follett said: "On this very day, February 6th 1918, the Bill to give women the vote was receiving Royal Assent. Seventy-seven years later we still have a House of Commons that is 91 per cent male."

nThe 11 sponsored women are: Janice Gowing from Knaresborough; Sharon Mainwaring, Swansea; Loraine Monk, Tolworth; Teresa Pearce, Erith; Joan Ryan, London; Janet Sillett, Norwich; Jacqui Smith, Redditch; Mary Southcott, Bristol; Helen Southworth, St Helens; Valerie Vaz, Leicester; Sally Young, Newcastle.

Award winners: Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award: Pauline Green MEP. Uphill all the Way Award: Margaret Beckett, MP. Act Local Award: Neelam Bakshi. Grassroots Award: Betty Barber. Beating the Backlash Award: Clare Short MP.

Political Pen Award: Suzanne Moore. Emily Man Award: John Smith. Woman of Parliament Award: Betty Boothroyd MP.