05/02/2014 08:05 GMT | Updated 05/02/2014 10:59 GMT

David Cameron Has 'Failed Women' Says Ed Miliband, Pointing To All-Male Government Bench


Ed Miliband seized on David Cameron's all-male front bench during prime minister's questions on Wednesday as evidence the Conservative Party has a "women problem".

"The prime minister said that in 2014 he was going to lead the way on women's equality. Can the the prime minister tell us how's that going in the Conservative Party?" the Labour leader asked.

Last week Conservative Anne McIntosh was sacked as her constituency's parliamentary candidate for 2015. The Thirsk and Malton MP, sat behind Cameron during PMQs today, has said her deselection was the result of "ungentlemanly behaviour" on the part of local Tories.

Several other female MPs first elected in 2010 have also recently announced they intend to quit parliament at the next election.

Miliband said: "The reason representation matters is because it shapes the policies a government introduces and how they impact on women in the country. He is failing women."

"There are as many men who went to Eaton or Westminster as there are women in his cabinet. Does he think it's his fault the Conservative Party has a problem with women?"

Embarrassingly for Cameron, every minister sat near him was a man. "A picture tells a thousand words," Miliband said.

"Look at the all-male front bench raised before us. He wants to represent the whole country, I guess they didn't let women in to the Bullingdon Club either."

By contrast Miliband, perhaps in anticipation of his line of attack, had several senior female Labour MPs sat near him on his front bench, including Harriet Harman and Rachel Reeves.

The prime minister said he was proud that under his leadership the number of female Tory MPs had gone from 17 to 48, but admitted the party needed to "do much more".

"On the important issue of getting more women in to 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 of our public life."

Of the full cabinet, only four are currently women; home secretary Theresa May, development secretary Justine Greening, Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villers and culture secretary Maria Miller. Cameron is also slightly restricted in the proportion of the cabinet that he can make female, as four of the positions are controlled by Nick Clegg. All Lib Dem cabinet ministers are men.

Cameron also told Miliband not to lecture the Conservative Party on female representation, given it has been the Tories that had given the country its first and only female prime minister in Margaret Thatcher.

"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," he said.

However Miliband hit back: "He mentioned Lady Thatcher, unlike him she was a Tory leader who won general elections."

One of Cameron's most senior female MPs, Treasury minister Nicky Morgan, recently warned that political parties struggled to appeal to women as parliament looked like a "male club".

"I think a lot of women look at it, a lot of my female friends look at what I do and they think I’m completely stark-staring mad to be involved in politics," she said.