A senior Labour Party activist has said the party should not use an all women shortlist to select their candidate in Grimsby, a key UKIP target seat, because of a “febrile” political atmosphere following major gains by Nigel Farage’s party.
Ray Sutton, who is chairman of the local party group, said that Labour should not be “restricted” during what he described as a “critical time in local politics”.
Mr Sutton told the Grimsby Telegraph he supported all women shortlists, but feared that they were not right for Grimsby given the current strength of UKIP. The vacancy in Grimsby – which was once considered safe for Labour – has come about because of the retirement of Austin Mitchell MP, 79.
As Mitchell has aged, his electoral majority has declined. In 2010 he only managed to beat the Conservatives by a little over 700 votes. In addition to this, UKIP is now the third largest party on the local council, with eight seats.
Mitchell himself had expressed fears that Labour’s candidate would be “imposed upon them by the metropolitan elite”. In contrast, the Conservative candidate is a popular local dentist and the UKIP candidate is likely to be the local Councillor who was narrowly defeated as the Conservative candidate in 2010.
Mr Sutton said: “My worry is that with this particular all-woman shortlist we are going to end up with a restricted range of people to choose from… We have restricted ourselves at quite a critical time in local politics. But we will get a very good candidate and we will fight and we will win. I am confident of that.”
Whilst Sutton’s comments will further inflame a delicate situation, he did concede that he has personal ambitions for the seat.
His comments are supported by Austin Mitchell MP: “I’m not going to express an opinion on any of the possible contenders but we do need the widest range possible. I support all woman shortlists in principle but they have got to be applied according to local circumstances.”
But Labour confirmed it had no plans to U-turn on the issue. Shortlists are imposed by the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) which has had a long standing policy to push positive discrimination. A Labour source confirmed: “Labour is committed to increasing the number of women in Parliament and is proud of its determination to do so.
“Of the 135 parliamentary selections nationally during this parliament either completed or currently taking place, 72 – including Great Grimsby – have been all-woman shortlists.
“People rightly want the House of Commons to be more representative of the people it serves.
“Labour already has more woman MPs than the other parties put together, and is the only party taking the proactive steps necessary to give more women a voice in Parliament.”
Grimsby is now shaping up to be one of the seats to watch in 2015, as it is basically a three-way marginal between Labour, UKIP and the Conservatives. It is likely that Labour will lose the seat if opposition voices unite around either the UKIP or the Conservative candidate. However that will be far easier said than done.