POLITICS

Liz Kendall Hits Back At 'Childless Question', Calls For Women And Men To Be Treated Equally

09/07/2015 14:42 BST | Updated 09/07/2015 18:59 BST

Liz Kendall moved to draw a line under the row over her not having children today as she called for “a politics where women are treated the same as men”.

The Labour leadership contender spoke at length for the first time about the controversy, which blew up after one of Yvette Cooper’s backers said that she was supporting her ‘as a working mum’.

Labour MP Helen Goodman’s blog for HuffPost UK this week sparked a fierce backlash from Kendall allies, who claimed that it was an attempt to highlight the fact that she was childless.

At a CNBC event today, Ms Kendall was asked for her reaction to Ms Goodman’s remarks and whether the public thought candidates needed to have a family to understand daily pressures.

“This is the childless question, everybody,” Ms Kendall told the City audience. “I want to have a politics where women are treated the same as men and they are not asked those kind of questions.

“Let me just say this, I may not have children myself, but I am part of the best family in the world, my mum, my dad, my brothers and my nieces. I am very proud of that.

“I am really looking forward to you asking the family question to Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham. I cannot wait for the day when journalists ask the same questions to men as well as women. And they don’t ask questions they would never ask of a man.”

The issue turned into a flashpoint earlier this week after shadow media minister Helen Goodman said the fact Cooper was a "working mum" had convinced her to back the shadow home secretary's leadership campaign.

The blog irritated members of Kendall's campaign team, who interpreted it as a implicit criticism of their candidate. Cooper has three children with the former shadow chancellor Ed Balls.

Toby Perkins, Kendall's campaign chief, told the BBC's Daily Politics: "I think the idea that you say because one of the candidates is a mother they are the one you should back suggests a paucity of intellectual argument which the Labour Party really should have moved beyond. I was disappointed by the specific piece."

John Woodcock, another prominent supporter of Kendall used Twitter to criticise Goodman's blog and said Cooper's team should have known how it would be interpreted.

Ms Goodman today accused Iain Duncan Smith of targeting Catholic families with his new curbs on benefits for families with more than two children.

“I will be concentrated on families where children will be living in poverty, on Roman Catholic families, on Catholics from other minorities,” she said in the Commons.

In her HuffPost piece this week, headlined 'Why, as a Parent, I'm Backing Yvette Cooper as Labour's Next Leader', Goodman gave her personal opinion about why she has decided to back Cooper.

Goodman wrote: "Much more important to me than being an MP and shadow minister is that I am a mum. I have two children and although they are both grown-up (supposedly), once a mum, always a mum. I remember the difficulty of having to work and arrange childcare. Getting them up and ready for school, nagging them about their homework, which strangely seems to get harder as they get older, then battling to get them to bed at a sensible time - a task.

"That's why I'm backing Yvette Cooper to be the next Leader of the Labour Party. As a working mum, she understands the pressures on modern family life. We need a Leader who knows what challenges ordinary people face day to day, and who is committed to helping them."

Goodman highlighted six areas which she said Cooper would be best placed to tackle. As shadow home secretary, Goodman said Cooper had been a "tireless champion for women and children".

"She has spoken out about the shameful fall in convictions for sexual assault and the use of community sentences for domestic abuse. She has challenged Theresa May about police cuts, and worked with women's charities to raise awareness," Goodman said.

"Solving one of these issues might seem difficult, and tackling all six might seem impossible. But I believe it is the duty of the Labour Party to take up that challenge and address them head on. We need a Leader who will champion families. And I know who I believe will do that."

Yet Goodman was later criticised for having a short memory.

Back in 2013, Goodman lambasted the then Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, for comments she made about understanding the need for internet porn controls just because she was a mother.

Goodman said: "The job of Secretary of State is to stand up to the industry, not to start talking about her personality and family situation."

It is not the first time the children of politicians have been pushed into the limelight. In 2013 Conservative MP Tim Loughton had to apologise after he suggested Lib Dem Sarah Teather was a poor children's minister because she did not have any of her own. didn't produce one of her own. "The person who was actually in charge of family policy amongst the ministerial team at the DfE was Sarah Teather. Which was a bit difficult because she doesn't really believe in family. She certainly didn't produce one of her own. So it became a bit of a family-free zone. I think that is a huge disappointment," he had said.

Cooper and Kendall are battling Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn to succeed Ed Miliband as Labour leader. The winner will be announced on September 12.