Scramble for seats as veteran MPs announce their retirement

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Labour is facing a last-minute scramble for seats after two veteran MPs announced their retirements over the weekend.

Although there had been speculation that the party might have persuaded the members to stand down to make way for other seatless MPs, it now looks as if there will be selection battles in both areas.

The two who have decided, belatedly, to retire are Doug Hoyle, the MP for Warrington North and chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Norman Hogg, MP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. Their seats appeared to fit neatly with the ambitions of Bryan Davies, Labour's higher education spokesman and MP for Oldham Central and Royton, and Mike Watson, member for Glasgow Central - both of whom have lost their seats because of boundary changes.

However, last night Mr Watson said that he would not stand for Mr Hogg's seat as there was a strong local candidate, and if Bryan Davies decides to stand for Mr Hoyle's seat he is likely to face competition.

Mr Hoyle, who has been in Parliament since 1979 and in his Warrington seat since 1981, said yesterday that he thought it best to quit while he was ahead. Now that a clear Labour victory seemed likely, he had to consider whether he really wanted another full term in Parliament. "I always think it is better to go when people still have a lot of respect for you," he said.

Mr Hoyle added the shortlisting process would begin this week. "It will be up to Bryan whether he puts his name in, but my view is that Warrington will make its own mind up. I can think of some very good people on the local council," he said.

Last night, Mr Davies said he had only just learnt of the vacancy and was not able to say whether he would apply. However, Mr Watson said he would definitely not stand for Mr Hogg's seat. Although he would still like to return to Westminster, he said, he was also considering seeking a seat in a devolved Scottish parliament.

A likely candidate for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth is thought to be Rosemary McKenna, a former president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, he said, adding: "If something came up I would consider it, but on balance this wasn't the right one for me."

Oona King, 29, a former aide to Glenys Kinnock, was last night selected as Labour candidate for the east London seat of Bethnal Green and Bow, held by Labour stalwart Peter Shore, who is stepping down.