Cabinet Office minister David Lidington told Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry to “grow up” on Wednesday, as the pair clashed over giving the vote to 16-year-olds.
Theresa May is on a three-day trip to China and Lidington stood in for her at prime minister’s questions while Thornberry took Jeremy Corbyn’s place.
During the raucous exchanges, Thornberry branded the Conservative Party and DUP a “coalition of cavemen” for rejecting proposals to lower the voting age.
But Lidington mocked Thornberry for arguing in favour giving votes to 16-year-olds given the last Labour government had “raised the age to buy sunbeds to 18”.
And he suggested people under the age of 18 lacked “sufficient maturity and responsibility” to be granted the right to vote.
Downing Street issued a rebuke to Lidington following PMQs. Asked if May would have been happy with him having told Thornberry to “grow up”, a No.10 spokesman said: “She wouldn’t have used that language.”
Thornberry, flanked by two female shadow cabinet ministers, also demanded the government do more to increase female representation in the Commons.
“I am the only Emily elected since 1981 and he is one of 155 Davids,” she told Lidington.
Thornberry told Lidington there was “no logical principled objection to votes at 16”.
“We can get married we can start work, we can pay taxes, we can join the forces,” she said.
The Welsh government wants to set the voting age at 16. In Scotland the voting age has already been lowered for the Scottish and local government elections.
“Every party in this House supports it except of course the Conservatives and the DUP. Once again, joined in opposition to change, they’re not the coalition of chaos, they’re the coalition of cavemen,” Thornberry added.
“Why doesn’t the minister realise the lesson that we women taught his predecessors 100 years ago. When change is right it cannot be resisted together and this is a change whose time has come.”
Lidington dismissed the argument and said the national voting age was 18 in 26 out of 27 of the other members of the EU as well as in US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
“Unless she’s going to judge all those countries as somehow inadequate...then quite honestly she ought to grow up and treat this subject with a greater degree of seriousness,” he said.
Lidington also agreed there was “more to be done” to see more women MPs elected, but pointed out Labour had never had a female leader.
“We have now had two women leaders and prime minsiters, so they have a bit of catching up to do,” he said.
Thornberry hit back: “If the party opposite is so proud of having a female leader, why are so many of them trying to get rid of her and why has she had to run away to China to get rid of them?”
Speaking to journalists on her flight to Beijing last night, May suggested she intended to fight the next election despite the turmoil and rumours of a leadership plot within her party. “I’m not a quitter,” she said.