Union boss warns Jeremy Corbyn against 'stitch-up' over all-women shortlists in Labour safe seats
The boss of Britain's biggest trade union has warned Jeremy Corbyn against “trading” seats earmarked for women candidates in order to let “favourite sons” run for the party.
In a hard-hitting letter to the Labour leader, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said a “back-room stitch-up” could lead to the party “flipping” seats where an all-women shortlist (AWS) for Labour candidates currently applies.
All-women shortlists were first used by Labour in 1997, in a bid to drastically boost the number of female MPs.
But, in his letter to the Labour leader, Mr Prentis warned: “It has been the position of the Party for many years that where a woman is standing down, that seat remains an All Women Shortlist.
"In recent weeks, however, I am aware of discussions and ‘negotiations’ around the existing seats that seek to overturn that practice, flipping AWS seats and trading them around for what appears to be favourite sons taking up the safest seats.
“This I find deeply concerning and wish to flag up the inherent risks and dangers of meddling with a process that has served us reasonably well to date.”
PoliticsHome has been told that the row partly concerns the process of selecting the next Labour candidate selection for the City of Durham, where long-serving MP Roberta Blackman-Woods is due to step down before the next election.
The safe Labour seat is currently subject to an all-women shortlist, but there are fears the seat could be opened up to any candidate regardless of gender. In its place, the north-east seat of Blyth Valley would then become an all-women shortlist when incumbent Ronnie Campbell steps down.
Although he does not mention any seats by name, Mr Prentis, whose union is affiliated to Labour and provides a significant chunk of the party’s funding, warned that trading all-women shortlist seats could make it less likely for female MPs to get elected.
“UNISON has over a million women members, thousands of them active in our Party. They are strong, talented women from all walks of life – and like Angela Rayner and Eleanor Smith, I know many of them would make excellent MPs,” he said.
“Yet what we are witnessing at the moment is the current All Women Shortlists being used as bargaining chips primarily for the convenience of men to take or monopolise promised seats.
“After all our work over the decades we cannot return to the bad old days of back-room stitch ups and women being pushed further away.”
In a direct plea to the Labour leader, the Unison general secretary says: “Given our proud record and your personal support over the years, I hope you will intervene and voice your opposition to any changes being made that threaten or seek to diminish the existing AWS arrangement. Our policy must remain that where a female labour MP steps down, that specific seat must remain open to women only.”
A Labour spokesperson said: “Labour has more women MPs than all other political parties combined and we are committed to improving diverse representation at all levels of the party. In the next general election, women candidates will be standing in more than two thirds of our key target seats.”