The Labour Party in Blackpool: Leadership urges delay on women's representation

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Indy Politics
THE LABOUR high command yesterday urged conference to put off for a further year measures to achieve the aim - agreed two years ago - of 50-50 representation of men and women as MPs.

Opposing a motion calling for all-women shortlists for parliamentary constituencies whenever a Labour-held seat becomes vacant, Richard Rosser, a National Executive Committee member, said the issue should be referred back so it could continue to form 'a serious part of discussions on selection of candidates'. The results of that process would be presented to conference next year.

The executive's cautious stance - the result of a card vote will be announced today - comes in spite of mounting concern over the gender gap identified after this year's general election, when women were found to be far less likely to vote Labour. Among older women, the Tories showed a 14 per cent lead.

Valerie Wise, of Preston Constituency Labour Party, said the motion was moderate. 'It's not saying existing male MPs must move over.' But of 26 vacancies caused by retiring MPs at the last election, only three were filled by women.

Prospective parliamentary candidates were supposed to be selected on merit, she said. 'Are we saying so few women have the merit to be our MPs?'

The motion follows a 1990 conference decision to introduce a 'phased programme over the next 10 years or three general elections so that at least half the parliamentary party shall be women.' Activists claim the NEC has failed to take any action.

Ms Wise said at the current rate of progress, it would take seven elections to achieve the 50-50 quota. The motion would mean that 'new budding male MPs will have to fight in marginal seats, the reverse of what we have now.

'We can't afford to miss another another general election without effective action,' she said. 'Was passing the resolution in 1990 an election gimmick? We are fed up with platitudes. We are fed up with gimmicks. If we want women voters to trust us then we must first win the trust of our women members.'

Seconding the motion, Irene Graham, Glasgow Central CLP, said selection for the next election was due to begin in 1993. 'We certainly don't want to miss all the safer seats again.'

Attacking the 'tokenism, the patronising attitude' of the current practice of including one woman on shortlists, Sarah Perrigo, Leeds North East CLP, said: 'We've had all-men shortlists for years. Nobody said that was wrong.'

But Mr Rosser said the motion was unlikely to achieve its objective. 'There is no guarantee that sufficient Labour seats will become vacant.' He added that constituency parties had made it clear they were not prepared to have candidates imposed on them. 'It's not a reality that can be ignored.'