Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Shearer axes 'distracting' man-ban plan

Labour leader acts on women-only electorate selection plan, but walks into criticism for ignoring party process.

Labour leader David Shearer has quashed his party's proposal for women-only candidate selections, but risks a backlash from some party members angered that the decision was taken out of their hands.

Mr Shearer yesterday announced Labour's council had agreed to his request to withdraw a proposal to allow some electorates to open candidate selections to women only, saying it was distracting from issues people wanted Labour to talk about.

He said he supported the target of a 45 per cent female caucus next year and 50 per cent in 2017 and would work to help ensure that happened.

But despite that endorsement, some party members said they were concerned about the way the women-only proposal was scrapped rather than being presented for members to vote on at the annual conference - raising the prospect of another power struggle between the caucus and membership at the November conference.

Carmel Sepuloni, who hopes to secure the Waitakere selection again next year, said she was undecided on women-only selections. But she did have some concerns about the manner in which it was scrapped before going to the membership.

"In terms of the process, I don't know how it has come about and whether there are rules that allow that to happen, but I do think it's a little bit strange that it would just be pulled like that. There will be some robust discussion."

James Dann, who chairs the Port Hills electorate committee, said he suspected the policy would have failed at the conference anyway but there were issues with the way it was ditched.

"The party has a process for adopting resolutions and I'm concerned that the parliamentary wing is leaning on the membership."

He was pleased the 45 per cent target would still go before the conference, but members would want to know how Labour hoped to attain it.

The party is expected to work on measures such as focusing on pre-selection by shoulder-tapping promising candidates and mentoring them.

The way the issue was dealt with raised questions about Mr Shearer's leadership, including why he allowed the proposal to get to the stage it had.

He said he did not believe it had weakened his leadership.

The decision to drop it appears to have fairly wide support amonmg Labour MPs. Although most said they backed a target to boost the number of women in caucus, only Louisa Wall came out fully in support of the women-only selections.

Clare Curran said she was not happy with the way the issue had played out in public. "It's been very damaging to the cause of getting more women into Parliament."

David Cunliffe said he believed the decision to drop the female-only selections was "entirely appropriate" although he backed the 45 per cent target. Asked if it had affected Mr Shearer's leadership, he said: "I have no idea."

Party leaders will be keen to avoid a repeat of last year's conference, at which the members overrode the caucus by pushing through changes to leadership elections which mean that 40 per cent of the caucus, rather than the usual majority, can force a leadership contest.

- NZ Herald

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