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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 29 September, 1998, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Labour votes for more girl power
Armstrong
Armstrong: Women's organisation is on the wane
Labour delegates have voted to modernise the party's women's organisation.

The proposals include an annual women's conference and the appointment of a women's officer to coordinate a constituency women's forum.

There were also repeated calls for the new-look organisation to ensure a louder voice for women in the party at all levels.

Stuart
Stuart: First Labour female MP for her seat
Local Government Minister Hilary Armstrong told the conference: "In the last 10 years the party has transferred itself from being the most male dominated in Britain to the most women friendly."

Labour now had 101 women MPs but that was still only one in four, and only one in five councillors on local authorities were female.

But delegates had to recognise the women's organisation was on the wane and needed change.

Councillor Diane Smith said Labour needed a "healthy share of girl power" but it had to be New Labour rather than "old spice".

Gisela Stuart, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, described how she had been elected as the first Labour woman MP for her seat which had previously also been held by a woman.

Cooper
Cooper: Political rivals are in the last century
She told the conference that women's contribution to the party was invaluable as they could reach out to different sections of the community.

Leonie Cooper from the Manufacturing Science and Finance union said the Labour party had a long and proud history of giving women a voice.

She called for more involvement for women who should be represented at all levels within the party.

Ms Cooper said the Labour party's position on women left "political rivals behind in the nineteenth century as far as women's equality is concerned".

But there was opposition to the proposals for change.

Rosina McCrae, Glasgow Govan, opposed having quotas to ensure women had a voice. "There's never been a problem for women's voices to be heard - what's wrong is their access to the powerbase."

Quotas were not the only way and an arithmetical formula could not guarantee a voice for women, she said.

Etchells
Etchells: New life for the organisation
It was a recipe for disaster, the conference heard.

Brenda Etchells, vice chair of the NEC's women's committee, said quotas guaranteed women had a voice and without change to the women's organisation, it was in danger of "withering and crumbling".

She said: "We have listened to what women in the party had to tell us before coming up with proposals."

The proposals would mean more involvement for members and a campaign for more recruitment to reach out to more women, she said.

Ms Etchells said: "I believe this will breathe new life into the women's organisation."

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