15/01/2014 03:55 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

There Is A Danger This Feminism Thing Is Getting A Bit 'Ludicrous', Warns Lord Hurd

Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA Archive
Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body handout photo of former Conservative Home and Foreign Secretary Lord Douglas Hurd as he discusses his life in Politics during the Festival of Politics at the Scottish Parliament.

There is a "ludicrous" obsession with ensuring there is equal representation of men and woman in parliament and other areas of public life, a former Conservative cabinet minister has said.

Lord Hurd, who served as home secretary and foreign secretary under Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major, also said if voters did not like having a "good looking chap from a public school" as prime minister they would stop choosing them.

The Tory peer was speaking on Tuesday evening as part of a panel on political leadership in central London organised by polling firm Ipsos-MORI.

During a discussion on the lack of high profile female political leaders, Lord Hurd said Thatcher had always been "impatient" with the focus on her as the first women prime minister.

"She was the prime minister because she was the best person available regardless of gender, that was her firm belief," Lord Hurd said.

He added: "I think, therefore, the danger of feminism, the danger of constantly putting near the top of agenda that there ought to be more women and more women in this and that sphere of our life, is that you balance over and you become slightly ludicrous."

The Conservative peer also said all-women shortlists for parliamentary constituencies were "deeply undemocratic and will fail".

He noted that selection panels, the party members who pick the candidates, were "not just largely men, but women who choose men".

The Labour Party introduced all-women shortlists in order to force up the number of female MPs on its benches. But the measure has faced stiff opposition within both the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats who have so far successfully resisted its imposition.

David Cameron is frequently criticised for not appointing enough women to senior government posts. At present only four members of the cabinet are female: home secretary Theresa May, culture secretary Maria Miller, Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers and development secretary Justine Greening.

However the prime minister has said he wants to see more women in ministerial positions. Several of his recent reshuffle appointments are believed to have been made with a view to promoting women to the cabinet in time for the 2015 election.

There are 650 MPs but only 147 are women - just 22%. According to the inter-parliamentary union Britain is ranked joint 58th with Israel in the global league table of women’s representation.

Speaking alongside former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown and former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, Lord Hurd said it was "very rare now to find a MP who has done a useful job outside of politics".

But he said the power to change this "lies with the people". He said: "It is the people who choose the well spoken good looking chap from a public school, rather than the man who drove train" to be prime minister.

Commenting on the tendency of modern political leaders to feel the need to respond to a demanding and hyper media, Lord Hurd said: "I think it's time we had a lazy prime minister. It would be a very good thing."