ANOTHER VIEW; Women-only lists in court

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The Independent Online
I have been asked, why take the Labour Party to an industrial tribunal to challenge women-only short lists? Aren't you happy now that Tony Blair has announced that Labour is to abandon the policy after the general election?

On the contrary, I am dismayed. What he has in effect announced is that, in two years' time, Labour will stop discriminating against men - why wait two years? It is wrong and it should be stopped now.

The new Labour Party constitution commits the party to promoting equality of opportunity. Despite these fine words, the actions of the party are totally inconsistent with that aim. In two constituencies, women-only parliamentary short lists apply and men cannot be considered. This is clear sex discrimination in that, but for the fact that I am a man, I could become a Labour Member of Parliament for either of those constituencies.

Indeed, to be a Labour MP, I need the recognition and approval of the party. In these circumstances, the only options I have are to accept this discrimination or try and challenge it through the courts. The Labour Party intends to defend the proceedings, not on the grounds of denying the discrimination, but because an industrial tribunal has no jurisdiction to hear the case, since a candidate is not employed. Thus the case will be fought on whether or not the Labour Party is considered to be a qualifying body as per the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and also in relation to whether UK law is consistent with the EC Equal Treatment Directive 76/207.

If my claim is successful, it will not just embarrass the Labour leadership, but could also herald new opportunities for women. Indeed, it will mean that all political parties will need to re-examine their selection procedures.

What Labour and other political parties need is a high-level Equal Opportunities Commission or Committee (consisting of discrimination law experts) with ongoing powers to investigate any allegations of sex or race discrimination in selection procedures. Furthermore, this body should be given the responsibility for drawing up guidelines of positive action to develop opportunities for women and ethnic candidates.

For many years, discrimination has existed in the selection of candidates at both parliamentary and local government levels. This discrimination, usually indirect, has meant that white men in grey suits are responsible for the government of Britain. With the one notable exception of Mrs Thatcher, women are marginal in relation to positions of power. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was introduced by a Labour government in order to provide legal redress where discrimination exists. It is ironic that a man, taking the Labour Party to an industrial tribunal, could further develop equality of opportunity in the House of Commons.

The writer has been barred twice from applying to be a Labour candidate.