BURNLEY’S Labour Party activists are furious after it was revealed that bosses are again insisting on an all-woman shortlist in the race to become the town’s next MP.

Grassroots members had voted unanimously against the controversial move but they were overruled at a National Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday night.

Critics say the “ridiculous” head office decision makes it less likely a local candidate will be chosen as Labour looks to hold on to a seat it has held since 1931.

One of the men who had hoped to make Labour’s shortlist said he felt a “combination of fury and despair” at the announcement.

Current MP Kitty Ussher, who is standing down after one term, was chosen from a women-only list in 2005 to try and increase the number of female MPs.

Yesterday she backed the move and said it would not affect the quality of the candidate chosen.

Her predecessor Peter Pike, chairman of Burnley Labour Party, said: “The local party unanimously requested an open list.

“It is a national decision, but I personally view it with great concern. To my mind we needed a strong, local candidate.

“The Labour Party locally is in no way opposed to a woman candidate, but believes it should have the ability to select, male or female, the best person.”

With a general election months away - one has to take place by June - a timetable for choosing the new candidate will not be set until September 21.

This will be followed by nominations and interviews, lasting about 12 weeks.

Until then the party faithful have no idea who they will be campaigning for.

Labour finished 5,778 ahead of the Liberal Democrats in 2005 with 14,999 votes.

The Lib Dems, represented by council leader Gordon Birtwistle, would need a 7.4per cent swing this time around to take power.

Marcus Johnstone, former county councillor for Padiham and Burnley West, said: “It is a very, very regrettable decision.

"The local party made it very clear this was not what they wanted.

"But the national party has completely disregarded this.

“It’s going to make an already tough task even tougher.

"If we send a Lib Dem to Westminster we will get a Tory government.”

Another former front-runner and ex county councillor for Burnley Central West Tony Martin added: “I am disappointed on a personal level, because I thought I had a good chance of getting nominated.

“But I have gone on record before supporting all-woman shortlists and will be campaigning for whoever gets it.”

Labour changed its rules to allow all-woman shortlists in 2002.

After the 2005 general election, just over a quarter of Labour’s 356 MPs were women.

Across the Commons, just under 20 per cent of the 646 MPs were female.

Julie Cooper, a Bank Hall councillor and leader of the Labour group at the town hall, said she was “seriously considering” putting herself forward.

But she also disagreed with the decision to not include men on the shortlist, adding: “If me or any other woman wanted to go for it we should be able to win it anyway.”

Ms Ussher, who announced in June she was standing down for “family reasons” after being caught up in the MPs’ expenses scandal, said: “I respect this decision and I am totally relaxed about it.

"There is lots of talent, both male and female. I just want to make sure there is a good MP succeeding me because the people of Burnley deserve it.”

Coun Birtwistle said: “It is up to the Labour Party and I do not have a comment on that they do.

"They could choose a lady from Burnley but I think it is unlikely they will.”

Tory candidate Richard Ali added: “It’s a decision for the Labour Party and an internal matter for them.

“But I know many people in Burnley have concerns about an all-woman shortlist.”

In Hyndburn and Haslingden, where MP Greg Pope is standing down, there will be an open list.

Yesterday a Labour Party spokesperson said: “The NEC makes decisions on a case-by-case basis as to whether or not a parliamentary selection process should be an open shortlist or all-women shortlist.

“The NEC Organisational Subcommittee took the decision yesterday that the selection processes for Burnley, Bury North, Stretford and Urmston and Wirral West should be based on an all-women shortlist.”

Bury North is being vacated by David Chaytor, who grew up in Summerseat, who resigned over the expenses scandal.

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