Keen eyes spot free seats as music plays on

Rumours add fresh name to list of retiring Labour MPs
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Rumours were circulating last night that Labour was organising the retirement of more MPs to make way for favoured candidates.

As the party announced shortlists for three seats where the sitting MPs all stood down suddenly last weekend, another senior figure hinted that he might be about to go.

Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse, member for Pontefract and Castleford and second deputy to the House of Commons Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, responded to the suggestion that he might announce his retirement with the remark: "Watch this space." He added: "I am saying nothing about what my intentions are until I have written to all members of my party. It is my future and I want to be in a position where I can inform people. You can read what you want into that."

It seemed likely that a handful of other Labour MPs might still be preparing to leave the Commons before the election. Two sitting members - higher education spokesman Bryan Davies and Glasgow MP Mike Watson - have been left without seats by boundary changes and neither is on a shortlist.

Last weekend, resignation announcements were made by Douglas Hoyle, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and member for Warrington North, Norman Hogg, member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, and John Evans, member for St Helens North and a former aide to Michael Foot.

As the retirements came after the election was called, the selection procedure has been truncated. Prospective candidates were asked to submit their curricula vitae to the party's national executive, which drew up shortlists last Wednesday night. The sets of both Mr Hoyle and Mr Hogg are being contested by all-women lists, though the party has said this is coincidental.

The front-runner for Mr Hogg's Scottish seat is believed to be Rosemary McKenna, a former president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, although she faces competition from Margaret McCulloch, an Edinburgh councillor, Rhona Brankin, a former Lanarkshire councillor, and Jane Saren, who was involved in expelling Militant from Liverpool in the Eighties.

In Warrington, the contenders are Yvette Cooper, a journalist at The Independent, solicitor Helen Jones of Widnes, Valerie Shawcross, a former National Women's Officer for the party and Valerie Vaz, a former member of the Greater London Council and sister of Leicester MP Keith Vaz.

In St Helens, Mr Evans - who was imposed as candidate in 1987 after a row with the hard left - looks likely to be succeeded by his agent Dave Watts, leader of the council. The others on the list are Francine Bates, deputy director of the National Carers' Association, and barrister Willy Bach, of Leicester.

The Conservatives have far more MPs left without seats than Labour but, with a less centralised party structure, Smith Square is not in as strong a position to help as Walworth Road. Until recently, seven Tories were still looking for seats, though both Winston Churchill and Sir John Wheeler have now said they will stand down. The others were Cyril Townsend, Michael Stephen, Hartley Booth, Dame Janet Fookes and Terry Dicks. However, they may find that they can get back into the action later.

With Timothy Smith's Beaconsfield seat an easy billet for someone and the possibility of Neil Hamilton resigning in Tatton and Piers Merchant in Beckenham, several members who thought their day in Parliament was done might find themselves answering a call to the aid of their party.