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Miliband slams PM over 'old boys'
Ed Miliband today condemned the Prime Minister for failing women and slammed him for running a Government which produced a Commons front bench entirely of men.
At Prime Minister's Questions the Labour leader mocked David Cameron for being surrounded by senior colleagues who were all male. Home Secretary Theresa May was missing from her usual front bench position.
The Labour bench included senior figures such as shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh.
Mr Cameron acknowledged he wanted to promote more women to his Government but said he was proud of what had been achieved so far.
But in his final PMQs salvo, Mr Miliband said: "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."
Against the backdrop of the de-selection by activists of Tory MP Anne McIntosh, Mr Miliband began his attack by asking: "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.
"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 said: "I do have to say a picture tells a thousand words... look at the all make front bench laid before us.
"You said you want to represent the whole country. I guess they didn't let women into the Bullingdon Club either, so there we go.
"You said a third of your ministers would be women, you are nowhere near meeting the target. Half the women you have appointed as ministers after the election have resigned or been sacked. And in your cabinet, there are as many men who went to Eton or Westminster as there are women.
"Do you think it is your fault the Conservative Party has a problem with women?"
Mr Cameron said: "Let me give you the figures. Of the full members of the Cabinet who are Conservatives, 24%, a quarter, are women. Not enough - I want to see that grow. Of the front bench ministers, of the Conservatives, around 20% are women.
"That is below what I want to achieve in 33%. We are making progress and we will make more progress."
To roaring cheers behind him, the premier added: "Let me make this point: this party is proud of the fact we had a woman prime minister.
"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 Milband joked in return: "Of course, you mention Lady Thatcher - unlike you, she was a Tory leader who won."
The Labour leader added: "I notice (Bernard Jenkin) in his place - he wrote an interesting article recently. He said 'we men are all guilty of such unconscious slights to women'.
"You recently greeted a leading, high-profile businesswoman at a reception by asking, 'where is your husband?'.
"That says it all. The reason representation matters is because it shapes the policy a government introduces and how they impact on women in the country.
"You are failing women. Can you say why, for the first time in five years, has the gap between men's and women's pay increased?"
Mr Cameron said: "The fact is there are more women in work in our country than ever before in our history, we have seen a tax cut for 12 million women, a pension increase that is benefiting women, tax-free child care that will help women who want to go out to work, more support on child care.
"You talk about MPs and candidates, you might enjoy this one ... the Labour candidate for Wythenshawe has made an endorsement today. He had endorsed Miliband - David Miliband."
Asked where the Conservative Cabinet members were during the session, a senior Downing Street source said: "I'm not sure - presumably hard at work doing their jobs."
Labour's front bench had at least eight female members during the session.
In a briefing note circulated by Labour, the party said it had 55 women front benchers out of 138, or 40%. It said there are 14 women in a shadow cabinet of 32.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles attempted to play down the issue saying Labour had the same proportion of women leaving next year as the Tories.
"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," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.