THREE Labour party members have confirmed an interest in defending MP Brian Iddon's Bolton South-east seat.

Dr Iddon has decided to retire rather than fight for a fourth term as MP at the next general election, likely to be held in 2009.

Bolton councillors Akhtar Zaman and Sufrana Bashir-Ismail have said they may seek selection as candidate for the seat, as has Ruth Kelly's parliamentary assistant George McNamara.

Bolton South-east constituency party members this week decided that the 12-week process to select the candidate will begin on Friday with the winner announced following a secret ballot on August 26.

Cllr Zaman, who has been on Bolton Council since 2002 and is executive member for regeneration, said: "I am expressing an interest and will see how things develop."

Cllr Bashir-Ismail, who was elected to the council last year, said: "It's early days but in due course I will consider whether I will submit an application."

Mr McNamara has worked for Bolton West MP Ms Kelly for eight years and is also head of public affairs for the NCH children's charity in London. He said: "I've become attached to Bolton, having worked for Ruth over the years and would be very interested in the seat, but it's ultimately up to the constituency party members."

Kevin Meagher, Bolton South-east party constituency chairman, is also thought likely to stand, while London barrister Yasmin Qureshi is said to be considering a bid.

She was on the shortlist for the candidature of the Bolton North-east seat won by David Crausby ahead of the 1997 election, and was also Labour's candidate for the Brent-east seat in 2005, but failed to win the constituency from the Liberal Democrats.

If Cllr Bashir-Ismail or Ms Qureshi were to be selected they would be bidding to become Britain's first Asian female MP.

Other people being tipped to stand include Phil Collins, a novelist and speech-writer for Tony Blair, who is originally from Ainsworth, and Simon Danczuk, founder of the Big Issue North West.

Cllr Sean Hornby, constituency party treasurer, said: "We're expecting a high calibre of candidates and we could be looking at more than 100 applicants because this is a safe Labour seat."

The party's seven local branches, affiliated organisations, such as trade unions, Labour clubs and the Co-operative party, will nominate up to three candidates.

The constituency's executive committee will draw up a final shortlist on August 13.