LABOUR Party activists will choose a candidate from an all-women shortlist to fight a knife-edge Parliamentary seat.

Colne Valley MP Kali Mountford is standing down at the next election for health reasons.

A Labour spokesman revealed yesterday that the party would pick a woman to fight the highly-marginal seat.

He said: “The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party decide in some instances to have an all-women shortlist to try to increase the number of female MPs.”

Nominations are now open and the party will announce a shortlist on May 2. Labour activists will hold a selection meeting on May 16. The next general election must take place by summer 2010.

The Colne Valley seat covers the Kirklees Council wards of Colne Valley, Crosland Moor and Netherton, Golcar, Holme Valley North, Holme Valley South, and Lindley. It is the 56th most marginal constituency in the country and one of a few dozen seats which could be won by any of the three main parties at the next election.

Ms Mountford won the seat for Labour in 1997 and successfully defended it in the elections of 2001 and 2005. She had a majority of 1,501 over the Conservatives at the last poll.

Ms Mountford said yesterday that she was pleased there would be an all-women shortlist.

She said: “I have been proud to represent Colne Valley for more than a decade and I hope I’ve shown that women can do the job in Parliament.

“I fully support an all-women shortlist and I believe it will be good for the Colne Valley. Fourteen years ago I was chosen as candidate after the local party decided voluntarily on an all-women shortlist.

“Labour Party policy is to increase the number of women in Parliament and a century of experience has shown us this can’t be left to chance.”

But Conservative Colne Valley candidate Jason McCartney criticised Labour’s plans for the all-women shortlist.

He said: “I think it’s a shame that Labour are excluding 50% of the population from its selection process. The job should go to the best person.

“All-women shortlists are the kind of namby-pamby, positive discrimination, political correctness that people don’t like these days.”

Clr Nicola Turner, who will contest the seat for the Lib Dems, is also against all-women shortlists.

She said: “I had to put myself forward for selection against a man.

“I don’t agree with all-women shortlists but I would love to see more women in Parliament. We have to give women the confidence to put themselves forward, the country needs a cultural change.”

ALL-WOMEN shortlists have been a cause of controversy for more than a decade.

Labour used the tactic in the run-up to the 1997 election to increase the number of female candidates in winnable seats.

Ms Mountford was among those to benefit from the policy when she was chosen as Labour’s Colne Valley candidate in 1995, beating four other women to the nomination.

After the 1997 landslide, Labour had an unprecedented 101 female MPs, many of them chosen from all-women shortlists.

Labour activists in the Wakefield constituency – which includes Denby Dale – chose from an all-women shortlist in 2004, with Mary Creagh going on to win the seat at the following year’s election.

However, the policy has been controversial with some female politicians. Last year Conservative MP Anne Widdecombe noted: “Neither Margaret Thatcher nor I needed this kind of help to get into Parliament.”

Colne Valley general election 2005:

Kali Mountford, Labour ...................17,536

Maggie Throup, Conservative ....... 16,035

Elisabeth Wilson, Lib Dem ............ 11,822

Barry Fowler, BNP ........................... 1,430

Lesley Hedges, Green ......................1,295

Helen Martinek, Veritas ...................... 543

Ian Mumford, Monster Raving Loony ... 259

Labour majority: 1,501