Labour trade union ally says party is trading female MP seats so they can be filled by 'favourite sons'

Unison general secretary warns of return to ‘bad old days of backroom stitch-ups and women being pushed further away’

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 16 August 2019 11:13
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One of Labour’s biggest trade union allies has written to Jeremy Corbyn accusing the party leadership of “trading” female MPs’ seats to allow them to be filled by “favourite sons”.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, condemned what he claimed were ongoing discussions about ditching women-only contests in some constituencies in order to allow male allies of Mr Corbyn to be elected in place of outgoing female MPs.

The “meddling” to remove all-women shortlists was “deeply concerning” and risked a return to “the bad old days of backroom stitch-ups and women being pushed further away”, he added.

Unison is the UK’s biggest trade union and Labour’s second-largest union backer in terms of donations.

Amid mounting speculation of a general election later this year, Labour is currently in the process of selecting candidates to fill seats vacated by MPs who are stepping down or who have defected from the party.

The party usually imposes an all-women shortlist (AWS) in seats where a female MP is standing down, in order to ensure that the number of female MPs is not reduced.

But Mr Prentis claimed that there had been discussions about “trading” all-women shortlists in some safe Labour seats and replacing them in other seats that the party may be less likely to win a move that could decrease the number of women becoming MPs.

In a letter to Mr Corbyn, he wrote: The Labour Party and Unison have a proud record of encouraging women to come forward. We have worked together over decades to structurally ensure we can work towards our goal of 50-50 representation through our all-women shortlist process.

It has been the position of the party for many years that where a woman is standing down, that seat remains an all-women shortlist.

In recent weeks, however, I am aware of discussions and ‘negotiations’ around the existing seats that seek to overturn that practice, flipping AWS seats and trading them around for what appears to be favourite sons taking up the safest seats. This I find deeply concerning and wish to flag up the inherent risks and dangers of meddling with a process that has served us reasonably well to date.

Suggesting that many of Unison’s one million female members would make “excellent” MPs, he added: Yet what we are witnessing at the moment is the current all-women shortlists being used as bargaining chips primarily for the convenience of men to take or monopolise promised seats. After all our work over the decades, we cannot return to the bad old days of backroom stitch-ups and women being pushed further away.

Mr Prentis cited Mr Corbyn’s “personal support” for all-women shortlists in the past as he urged the Labour leader to “intervene and voice your opposition” to any changes that would weaken the system of using AWS to replace outgoing female MPs.

A Labour spokesperson said: The Labour Party has more women MPs than all other political parties combined and we are committed to improving diverse representation at all levels of the party.

“In the next general election, women candidates will be standing in more than two-thirds of our key target seats.”

The party is understood to have chosen female candidates in 72 of the 102 seats that it is currently targeting. Sources said it was not the case that AWS were automatically used in seats where a female MP was standing down, and that doing so had never been a strict rule.

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