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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 10:59 GMT
Women-only lists 'bar minorities'
By Cindi John
BBC News community affairs reporter

Women MPs
All-women short-lists have boosted the number of Labour's female MPs
The Labour party's use of all-women short-lists is hindering black would-be parliamentary candidates, a leading race group says.

Operation Black Vote (OBV) is calling for open short-lists in constituencies with big ethnic minority populations

OBV believes letting both men and women stand gives the best chance for a black or Asian candidate to succeed.

"All 32 MPs who came from all-women short-lists in the 1997 election are white," said OBV's Simon Woolley.

OBV's call comes ahead of the selection of a replacement for MP Tony Banks who is stepping down from the seat of West Ham, east London, at the next election.

In West Ham, 55% of residents are of ethnic minority origin.

Labour's National Executive Committee has yet to decide whether to use an all-women short-list in the constituency.

West Ham's ethnic mix
White: 45%
Black: 28%
Asian: 18%
Mixed race: 4%
Chinese: 5%

However, the result of an all-women selection procedure in another similar area of east London was not encouraging, Mr Woolley said.

"Hackney South & Shoreditch again has more than 50% black people in the constituency and we ended up with a white candidate."

Of the 659 MPs in the House of Commons, 13 are from ethnic minorities - all but one of whom represent Labour.

'Broader problem'

Simon Woolley said in principle OBV had nothing against the use of all-women shortlists.

"But in a constituency which has more than 50% black and ethnic minority communities they really ought to also think about addressing the even-bigger deficit which is the lack of black and ethnic minority MPs," he said.

I think we have to have targets in all-women short-lists for ethnic minority women
Shahid Malik, Labour parliamentary candidate
However, the use of all-women short-lists is strongly supported by the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality for women.

The society's director, Katherine Rake, says all-women short-lists should benefit black women as much as any other women.

"In principle there's absolutely no reason why an all-women short-list shouldn't be used to promote black women candidates as there are lots of strong black women around.

"What this points to is the broader problem the Labour party has, indeed all political parties have, in promoting black candidates. But it's not all-women short-lists per se which are discriminatory, " Ms Rake said.

'All-black shortlists'

Labour has 95 women MPs - 23% of the parliamentary party.

Around a third of those first came into parliament after the 1997 election when the Labour NEC decided to impose the use of all-women shortlists for half of "winnable" seats.

From the outset their use has been controversial and a legal challenge against them led the government to amend the Sex Discrimination Act.

Labour's first black MPs were elected in 1987

Karen Chouhan of the 1990 Trust, a black-led human rights group, believes the government should do the same to allow for all-black short-lists.

"We don't mind there being special provision for women but the principle on which that's based should extend to other groups which have under-representation.

"And there's no bigger under-representation than for black and minority groups in Westminster," she said.


But Shahid Malik, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, does not believe all-black short-lists are the answer.

Mr Malik, a member of Labour's NEC, was unable to put himself forward as a candidate for selection in his home town of Burnley because of an all-women short-list.

In spite of that, Mr Malik says he supports their use but wants to see targets within them introduced.

"For example if we say that 30 of our seats are going to be all-women short-lists, then we should say because the ethnic minority population is 10% then 3 of those 30 have got to be outcomes where ethnic minority women come through," he said.

With only two new black candidates selected for safe Labour seats - Shahid Malik and Sadiq Khan in Tooting - Simon Woolley says Labour is in danger of being overtaken by the Conservatives when it comes to new black MPs.

"I suppose it would strengthen our hand on all-black short-lists if they don't deliver on this but my worry is it's very difficult for us to then say to black people 'consider the Labour party'," he said.

Lib Dems reject women-only lists
27 Sep 01 |  Politics

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