What was termed an 'unholy', albeit unintended, alliance between hard-left Labour MPs and those resentful of the rule favouring women was singled out by critics for part of the blame.
It emerged yesterday that Mildred Gordon, an outsider candidate who attracted 81 votes, was prevailed upon to stand by leading members of the left-wing Campaign Group. Despite the group's commitment to more women Shadow Cabinet members, supporters were encouraged to vote for Mrs Gordon and another marginal candidate, Gwyneth Dunwoody, who polled 82 votes.
Ann Clwyd appears to have been the target. She is unpopular with the left because of her pro-Maastricht views. 'Some people actually told my supporters that they did not vote for me because of that,' she said yesterday. A number of men from the right were meanwhile aware that she drafted the rule requiring MPs to vote for at least four women compared to three last year.
The extent of skulduggery and tactical voting was highlighted yesterday by reports that a clutch of MPs voted for the same four women: Mrs Gordon, Irene Adams, an outsider who polled 88 votes, Ms Primarolo and Mo Mowlam, the sole beneficiary - she improved on last year's position.
Evidence also emerged of voting patterns arguably designed to favour weaker male candidates, preserving the status quo and thereby further reducing women's chances. Nearly a quarter of the 270 MPs voted for fewer than 10 out of the 18 candidates in total, including the four votes that had to be cast for women.
A backlash against the conservatism of the parliamentary party is set to be unleashed at tomorrow's Labour Welsh womens' conference in Cardiff, where the Vale of Glamorgan women's council will urge delegates to back 100 per cent all- women parliamentary selection shortlists in vacant seats.
Last month's party conference set the figure at 50 per cent. The Equal Opportunities Commission advised Labour that women-only shortlists did not contravene the law.
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