TWO favourites have emerged in the all-woman scrap over Labour's choice of candidate to fight the next election in a safe North-East seat.

Fifteen names were cut down to a shortlist of four on Saturday, with constituency workers in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, predicting a difficult choice between former North-East MEP Mo O'Toole and Downing Street aide Liz Lloyd.

Along with Derbyshire challenger Helen Goodman and former Croydon councillor Anne Moore-Williams, they face a busy week canvassing Bishop Auckland's 450 Labour Party members, who make the final selection on Saturday.

Even before last Saturday's hustings at Gosforth, Dr O'Toole and Ms Lloyd were knocking on the doors of prominent party figures in the town.

Dr O'Toole is already well known in Bishop Auckland and has the backing of Phil Graham, a Durham county councillor who had high hopes of following sitting MP Derek Foster, until the selection became an all-woman contest.

He said: "I am putting my money fair and square behind Mo, who I have known for many years."

Veteran Shildon politician Walter Nunn believes the selection was rigged by Labour's governing body, the National Executive Committee.

He said: "I was told in an anonymous phone call a year ago that Derek Foster would step down at the last minute and somebody would be parachuted in."

He added: It looks like that is exactly what has happened."

But constituency chairman Peter Moore is sure the process has been fair.

He said: "I was at the meeting on Saturday and it was completely above board."

* Liberal democrat Chris Foote-Wood is gearing up for his seventh General Election campaign after being chosen on Saturday to stand in his home town of Bishop Auckland.

Brother of comedienne Victoria Wood, the writer and broadcaster has lived and worked in the town for most of his life and leads his party on Wear Valley District Council.