UK Politics

Ed Miliband claims David Cameron is 'failing women'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionEd Miliband: "Look at the all-male front bench before us"

Labour leader Ed Miliband has accused David Cameron of running the government "like the old boys' network" by "failing" to improve gender equality in the Conservative Party.

The comments, made at Prime Minister's Questions, come after Tory MP Anne McIntosh was deselected last week.

Mr Miliband said Mr Cameron was "going backwards" and "failing women".

The prime minister said he had a "good record" of helping women but was determined to do more.

During a lively session in the House of Commons, Mr Miliband taunted Mr Cameron for having no female MPs present on the government front bench, with Home Secretary Theresa May and others absent.

'More help'

Mr Miliband, by contrast, had packed his front bench with female colleagues in anticipation of his question to Mr Cameron, BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said.

The Labour leader was sitting next to Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman, as is normal at PMQs, but other female shadow cabinet members sat alongside each other along the front bench, including shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh.

This enabled Mr Milband to point across the chamber at the all-male government front bench to illustrate his point, saying: "I do have to say a picture tells a thousand words... look at the all-male front bench laid before us."

The Labour leader told Mr Cameron: "You promised to modernise your party, but you are going backwards.

"You run your government like the old boys' network - that's why you are failing women across your party and across the country."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ed Milband packed his front bench with women to make his point
Image copyright PA
Image caption There were no women on the government front bench during PMQs

Ms McIntosh has said her de-selection by a ballot of Conservative members in Thirsk and Malton last week was "the result of some ungentlemanly behaviour".

Four female Conservative MPs from the 2010 intake have so far announced they will stand down at the next general election.

Mr Miliband said: "You said in 2014 you would lead the way on women's equality. Can you tell us how is that going in the Conservative Party?"

Mr Cameron replied: "On the important issue of getting more women into public life... this is fantastically important for our country because we will not represent or govern our country properly unless we have more women at every level in our public life and in our politics.

"I am proud of the fact that as leader of the Conservative Party the number of women MPs has gone from 17 to 48 but we need to do much more - I want this to go further."

The prime minister added: "We have also seen more women in work than ever before, a tax cut for 11 million women. We have stopped pensions being discriminated against women and we are putting women at the front of our international aid programmes.

"Those are the actions we are taking, there is more to do but we have a good record of helping women in our economy."

Mr Miliband continued his attack, telling the prime minister that "in your cabinet, there are as many men who went to Eton or Westminster as there are women".

He asked: "Do you think it is your fault the Conservative Party has a problem with women?"

'Surprised'

Mr Cameron replied that 24% of Conservative cabinet members were women, but this was "not enough".

To cheers from his MPs, he said: "To be fair to the Labour Party, they have had some interim leaders who are women, but they have this habit of replacing them with totally ineffective men."

Mr Cameron reminded the Labour leader that the Conservatives had provided the first, and only, female prime minister in Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Miliband said: "Of course, you mention Lady Thatcher. Unlike you, she was a Tory leader who won."

He added: "You recently greeted a leading, high-profile businesswoman at a reception by asking, 'where is your husband?' That says it all."

Asked afterwards where female Conservative cabinet members had been during the session, a senior Downing Street source said: "I'm not sure - presumably hard at work doing their jobs."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World at One, Conservative Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said of Mr Miliband's comments: "I was a bit surprised because, in terms of the number of women that are leaving at the end of this parliament, it is 7% Conservative and 7% Labour."

In a briefing note circulated by Labour, the party said it had 55 women front benchers out of 138, or 40%. It said there were 14 women in a shadow cabinet of 32.

More on this story