Decision due on all-female shortlist

St Helens MP Dave Watts has announced he is standing down
St Helens MP Dave Watts has announced he is standing down

St Helens Labour Party officials will learn on Friday night if the successor to retiring MP Dave Watts will be drawn from an all-female shortlist.

The St Helens Reporter understands a majority of senior party activists, including a number of serving councillors, want an open contest.

Should that happen, current council leader Barrie Grunewald and former mayor Andy Bowden are expected to be among those who put their names forward to stand in May’s election.

However, the final decision on whether the shortlist for St Helens North is opened to men as well as women will be taken by Labour’s national hierarchy in London.

Mr Watts announced he was retiring from frontline politics on Monday. He was first elected as an MP in 1997 and before that was a local councillor in St Helens for 17 years.

He joins fellow St Helens MP Shaun Woodward, who announced he was stepping down from Parliament at the next general election last year.

Mr Woodward’s successor was chosen from an all-female shortlist.

Former council leader Marie Rimmer won that contest but her candidacy was later thrown into turmoil when she was arrested and charged with assault following a fracas at a polling station in Glasgow while canvassing for the Scottish referendum no campaign.

She denies the charge and is due to appear before magistrates in Glasgow later this year.

Neighbouring Wigan has two MPs chosen from all-female shortlists but the move triggered fury among local activists angry they were being dictated to by Labour’s central office.

The practice of excluding men from shortlists in some constituencies started under Tony Blair in 1997.