Role-play to give women that vital push for Parliament

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Indy Politics
Aspiring Labour MPs could find themselves role-playing advice surgeries or showing their talent "on the stump" under plans aimed at putting more women into Parliament.

Plans to introduce a variety of new tests for selection applicants are being considered by a committee set up to find a replacement for all-women shortlists, which were declared illegal last year.

The group, which is expected to report to the party next month, may also suggest replacing the controversial all-women lists with a quota system under which shortlists would have to be at least 50 per cent female. A third reform under consideration is a central "approved" list of candidates like the one already run by the Conservatives.

The idea of role-play is designed to make selection procedures more women- friendly.

Party sources say that many women fail to push themselves forward under the existing selection procedures, in which candidates are questioned in crowded meeting rooms. They add that some candidates who impress members with their platform skills turn out to be hopeless on the doorstep or when dealing with constituents.

"You could select someone who has made a brilliant speech and then when you get them out on the campaign trail they are no good at all," one MP said.

All-women shortlists were outlawed last January by an industrial tribunal in Leeds after two male members complained that they were being discriminated against. Since then the proportion of women selected for winnable seats has plummeted. Labour's overseas-aid spokeswoman, Clare Short, pointed out recently that she was one of only 187 women MPs ever elected to Parliament.

The policy had already had some effect, and is likely to boost the number of women MPs to around 90 out of 660. However, this will still be very low in comparison to other countries such as Germany, where around a quarter of MPs are women. There, the Social Democrats operate a quota system.

Mary-Ann Stephenson, campaigns officer for the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for more women in Parliament and public life, welcomed the proposals.

"This could make a difference. Widening the selection procedure so that it is not just about being able to make one big barn-storming speech at one meeting is quite important," she said.

She added that extra training for potential candidates could also help them to put their best feet forward.