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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 08:49 GMT
'I'm Labour man now' - Woodward
Tory defector Shaun Woodward has brushed aside suggestions that he was parachuted into fighting a safe Labour seat by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The former Conservative MP told BBC News on Monday that he wanted to be "the champion" of voters if he wins his new seat of St Helens South.
Mr Woodward, who was the Tories' director of communications in the early 1990s, 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.
But his victory comes against a background of anger among some local Labour members over the lack of any local candidate on the shortlist for the seat drawn up by the party leadership.
One said people "basically mistrust" the selection, another described it as "a disgrace" and a union official denounced the process as "a stitch-up".
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.
"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."
Earlier, Mr Woodward - who defected to Labour in 1999 - insisted democracy had won the day.
A former television researcher, the new candidate 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".
And he admitted that he first visited St Helens last week.
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."
Mr Woodward, married to a Sainsbury's 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.
The prime minister on Sunday rejected claims that retiring Labour MPs have been offered a peerage to stand down so that favoured candidates could be parachuted into safe seats.
In a separate development, Downing Street policy chief David Miliband was chosen as the candidate for South Shields - another safe Labour seat - at the weekend, following the sudden decision of former Cabinet minister David Clark not to stand again.
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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