Labour votes on reserving half Shadow Cabinet seats for women

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Half of the seats in Labour's Shadow Cabinet could be reserved for women under proposals to be voted on by Labour MPs today.

In a secret ballot, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will decide whether the new leader to be elected on 25 September should be given a free hand to appoint the front bench team when the party is not in power. Under the present rulebook, the 19-strong Shadow Cabinet is elected annually by Labour MPs, with at least four seats reserved for women even if they receive fewer votes than their male rivals.

Following a PLP meeting yesterday, Labour insiders predicted that MPs would vote to keep an elected element, denying the new leader a free rein, and for the "beauty contest" to be held every two years instead of annually as at present. The options are for an entirely elected or entirely appointed Shadow Cabinet; a half-elected and half-appointed one and for one third to be appointed and one third elected.

Harriet Harman, the acting Leader of the Opposition, is keen to ensure more seats for women and is encouraging MPs to phase in a 50 per cent quota over two years. Other options include sticking to the current proportion or raising it to 40 per cent. The ballot follows a review of the rules led by Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary. It will also decide whether the Labour chief whip should be directly elected in opposition.

This year's elections are due to begin on the day after the new leader is chosen – at the start of Labour's annual conference, which could then become a "beauty contest" for the Shadow Cabinet runners. The results would be announced on 7 October.

David Miliband's leadership hopes were boosted yesterday when a ComRes survey for the BBC showed he enjoys strong support among Labour councillors. Of the 265 councillors in England and Wales contacted, he received the largest level of first preference support (33 per cent). Ed Miliband was second (26 per cent), Diane Abbott third (21 per cent), Andy Burnham fourth (12 per cent) and Ed Balls last (8 per cent).