Pressure grows on Labour over all-women lists

John Rentoul
Sunday 24 September 1995 23:02

A new legal opinion that Labour's policy of reserving parliamentary candidacies for women is unlawful casts further doubt on whether the party will complete the process, which Tony Blair, the Labour leader, recently described as "not ideal at all".

An article in the latest issue of Public Law, a quarterly academic journal, by Howard Davis, an expert in sex discrimination law, says there are strong grounds for believing that the policy of all-women shortlists is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The article strengthens the possibility that the Labour Party will lose the two industrial tribunal cases brought by excluded male candidates to be heard next month.

So far, 37 local Labour parties have agreed to choose candidates from all-women shortlists or - in the case of Slough - had an all-women shortlist imposed on them by the national executive committee.

With 12 more constituencies needed to reach the target of all-women shortlists in half of all safe Labour or winnable seats, the national executive is expected to impose further all-women lists at a meeting on Wednesday.

But party sources suggestthere might be flexibility in areas of strong local opposition - as long as there is at least one woman candidate in a winnable seat in each television area, for presentational reasons, in the general election campaign.

Mr Blair has made clear that the policy will not be continued after the general election, although he has since said that is a decision for the party.

t A prominent Labour MP has condemned the "McCarthyite" tactics being used by opponents of Liz Davies, the Leeds North East candidate selected from an all-women shortlist and threatened with possible deselection.

Ms Davies is taking legal advice over allegations about her left-wing past in a dossier drawn up by Peter Coleman, the party's organisation director. Ms Davies is due to appear before the party's national disputes committee today to consider complaints that she might vote against the Labour whip and that she had allegedly failed to disclose a jail sentence for non-payment of poll tax.

In Mr Coleman's memorandum, Ms Davies is accused of being a Trotskyist, inciting a violent mob against councillors and being "extremely unlikely" to follow the Labour whip.

Peter Hain, MP for Neath and chairman of the board of Tribune, says the arraignment of Ms Davies has become a "litmus test for new Labour as to whether tolerance and honesty will be its guiding principles.

"I have carefully researched the whole story which must be quite confusing to most people outside the Labour Party because of all its McCarthyite smears, but I think that the NEC will be left without a shred of credibility if it finds against Ms Davies," he said.

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