Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Breaking News - Darlington to be "Open" in Labour Selection Contest
"Breaking News" - insofar as I can't find it anywhere else on the net - Labour's National Executive Committee ruled this afternoon that the selection proces in Darlington will be open to men and women. Conversely, the shortlist in Durham North West, where Hilary Armstrong is standing down, is to be "all women".
The BBC's Richard Moss posted on his blog a little while ago about the competing demands amongst various North East Constituency Labour Parties for "open" status. It seems like it came down to a straight choice for the NEC - was it to be Darlington or North West Durham that was going to select from an all-women shortlist?
Quietly, I was always fairly confident that Darlington would be 'open'. Local sentiment strongly supported that outcome, but I doubt that was a deciding factor. More likely is the understanding in the Party that where where women MP's stand down, they will be replaced with women candidates. Although there have been 2 or 3 seats where this hasn't happened, for the most part the consensus has held. To have thrown this principle in the bin could have risked opening up uncertainties in those other places where female Labour MP's are retiring. That would have produced many more headaches for the NEC in the the future.
Having said all that, I wouldn't have objected had Darlington been an "all women" shortlist. No-one who is remotely interested in fair representation in Westminster can be happy with a situation where just 20% of MPs (128) are women, 81 years after the success of the women's suffrage movement.
The figures are stark. Of those 128 MP's, 98 are Labour, 17 are Tories, 10 are LibDems and 3 belong to other parties. The graph above tells its own story - it's only since Labour adopted a policy of promoting women-only shortlists that the Party began to address the discrimination in its selection procedures. The Tories and LibDems are still bumping along the bottom.
So I strongly support the mechanism the Party has adopted. I start from the reality that had I been an ambitious female Party member in the North East at anytime between 1901 and 1992, I probably wouldn't have had a prayer getting selected as a PPC - in some areas that goes for standing for councillor too. Without the mechanism of women-only shortlists, Labour's record on female representation would be as shameful as that of our opponents right now.
Still, Darlington is to be an open fight. And with several very talented contenders limbering up - male and female - it promises to be a fascinating contest.