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 A/V REPORTS
The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"Party unity swung the day"
 real 56k

Shaun Woodward
"I'm here because I want to be a champion for St Helens South"
 real 28k

Conservative party chairman Michael Ancram
"I'll be interested to see what the people of St Helens think of him "
 real 28k

Prospective Labour candidate, Mark Seddon
"They could try and get a decent, local genuine Labour person in"
 real 28k

Monday, 14 May, 2001, 08:36 GMT
Ex-Tory 'parachutes in'
Shaun Woodward
Mr Woodward hit back at "stitch-up" claims
Tory defector Shaun Woodward says he wants to be "the champion" of voters in the St Helens South.

Mr Woodward, a former Conservative director of communications, won the selection contest to stand as Labour's candidate in the safe seat of St Helens South at the weekend.

He saw off a challenge from Trafford councillor Barbara Keeley by just four votes, winning by 81 to her 77.


Democracy here actually ruled, a selection process took place, people had their opportunity to make their choices

Shaun Woodward

But his victory comes against a background of anger among some delegates of the local Labour party that no local candidate was shortlisted for the seat by the party leadership.

Mr Woodward said he knew he had to convince voters that he wanted to represent them.

"I'm here because St Helens South needs a champion and I want to fight St Helens case across the board," he told BBC News.

"Of course I have a case to make here which is about actually convincing people that I can do the best thing for the people of St Helens south but that is what I intend to do."

He added:

In a separate development, Downing Street policy chief David Milband was chosen as the candidate for South Shields - another safe Labour seat - following the sudden decision of former Cabinet minister David Clark not to stand again.

Mr Woodward's win was denounced by one union official, who described the process as "a stitch-up".

'Democracy ruled'

But speaking afterwards the new candidate, who defected to Labour in 1999, defended his selection.

He said: "Democracy here actually ruled, a selection process took place, people had their opportunity to make their choices."

Mr Woodward, a former television researcher, declared he was "proud" to be in the Labour Party, and attacked his former Tory colleagues for fighting on policies to "cut money to schools and hospitals".

Gerry Bermingham
Gerry Bermingham: Standing down
Asked if this was his first time in the constituency, Mr Woodward said: "I used to come up to the North West area when I worked on That's Life, and it was a great place to learn about working for constituents."

And he admitted that he first visited St Helens last Wednesday.

Mr Woodward angrily dismissed suggestions that he had sought the nomination to become a member of the Labour cabinet.

He said: "This is nonsense. This party will focus on fighting the election and fighting for people's votes.

"What happens after that is someone else's decision."

Unhappy

But some local Labour members were clearly unhappy with the selection process.

One said she was "extremely surprised" at Mr Woodward's success.

She told BBC News: "It took him such a long time to leave the Conservative party.

Ann McCormack
Ann McCormack: Selection 'a stitch-up'

"People basically mistrust that selection".

Another described it as "a disgrace".

Mr Woodward, married to a Sainsbury heiress, was placed on the shortlist for the seat after the sitting MP Gerry Bermingham unexpectedly announced he was standing down.

Many feel the millionaire will cut an incongruous figure in what is a staunchly working class constituency on Merseyside where Labour has a majority of more than 23,000.

The shortlist of four names, chosen by Labour's national executive committee, did not include local favourite Marie Rimmer, a St Helens councillor.


Labour Party members... have been denied their right to nominate someone - it is a stitch-up

Ann McCormack
Local union official Ann McCormack of Unison said before the vote: "The majority of our members are Labour Party members and they have been denied their right to nominate someone.

"Marie Rimmer has been a local councillor for 20 years and I would have loved her to have been on the list. It is a stitch-up."

No peerage offer

The prime minister had earlier rejected claims that retiring MPs have been offered a peerage to stand down so that favoured candidates can be parachuted into a safe seat.

After the selection of both Shaun Woodward and David Miliband, attention is now shifting to Gordon Brown's chief adviser, Ed Balls.

Mr Balls, who is married to health minister Yvette Cooper, is another influential Labour figure tipped to be helped into a safe seat by the central party machine.

There is now growing speculation that former minister Jack Cunningham is to stand down, leaving a vacancy in his safe seat of Copeland.

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