Vote cuts number of women

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Indy Politics
WHILE THE outcome of last night's shadow Cabinet elections has produced only a modest shift against the 'modernisers', the fall in the number of women, despite new rules to boost their chances, provoked strong reaction.

Brian Sedgemore, the MP for Hackney South & Shoreditch, said: 'The Parliamentary Labour Party is still full, alas, of male chauvanists.'

The feared tea-room offensive against what some men derided as the 'assisted places' scheme appears to have resulted in a substantial women's vote spread too thinly. That was not helped by the fact that 15 women stood. Two outsiders, Irene Adams and Mildred Gordon, attracted 88 and 81 respectively, enough to help depose Ann Clwyd and Harriet Harman, although she had faced some criticism in her shadow chief secretary role.

It also helped ensure that Joyce Quin, tipped as the most promising newcomer, failed by a whisker. That the contest was the first secret shadow Cabinet ballot in the party's history only adds to the irony.

Mo Mowlam, citizens' charter spokeswoman, improved her rating while Ann Taylor, under fire for her performance in education, fared worse. The third woman was Joan Lestor, 61, a veteran of the soft left.

John Prescott, the transport spokesman, is keen on an economic portfolio after his starring role at Labour's conference. Last night's results open the way for Mr Smith to appoint the newly elected George Robertson to the chief secretary position, a burdensome role in which he would shine.

That might enable Mr Smith to limit turbulence by retaining Tom Clarke as Scottish spokesman, in spite of his perceived shortcomings.

The full list of those elected (last year's positions in brackets) was:

1 Robin Cook (3), 177; 2 Frank Dobson (4) and John Prescott (5), 163; 4 Gordon Brown (1), 160; 5 Mo Mowlam (6), 156; 6 Tony Blair (2), 142; 7 David Clark (18), 133; 8 Jack Straw (16), 130; 9 Chris Smith (6), 124; 10 Michael Meacher (13), 122; 11 Ron Davies (joined after by-election to replace Bryan Gould) and Donald Dewar (14), 121; 13 Tom Clarke (17), 120; 14 Ann Taylor (11), 116; 15 Joan Lestor (-), 110; 17 David Blunkett (15) and Jack Cunningham (12), 107. Mr Smith has power to co-opt two more members. He and Margaret Beckett, his deputy, are automatic members.