THE sacking of North Yorkshire MP Anne McIntosh by her local party lays bare the Conservatives’ “problem with women”, Ed Miliband alleged today.
During a fiery Prime Minister’s questions, the Labour leader seized on the de-selection of the Thirsk and Malton MP to accuse David Cameron of running an “old boys' network”.
With a clearly upset Miss McIntosh sat directly behind Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband asked: “What is the Tory party doing?
“It is removing one of its most senior women and seeking to replace her with an Old Etonian. That says it all about the Conservative Party.”
Incredibly, not a single woman was sitting on the Coalition front bench during the 30-minute exchanges, which was instead packed with more than a dozen male ministers.
The gaffe allowed Mr Miliband to taunt his opponent saying, “A picture tells a thousand words. Look at the all-male front bench ranged before us.
“The prime minister says that he wants to represent the whole country. I guess they did not let women into the Bullingdon Club either.”
Mr Cameron struggled for a response, acknowledging there were “not enough” female Conservative ministers, but ignoring the jibe about the Thirsk and Malton de-selection.
Supporters of Miss McIntosh have alleged that Edward Legard, an Old Etonian barrister and part-time judge, is being lined up to replace her for next year’s general election.
But this was denied today, in an article penned for The Spectator magazine by Martin Vander Weyer, a member of the local Conservative association.
Mr Vander Weyer described Mr Legard as the “phantom preferred candidate”, insisting: “It’s a fiction, or a paranoid fantasy.
“Not since pre-Thatcher days have shire Tory grandees been able to slip favoured chaps into safe seats.
“I have never heard anyone in Thirsk and Malton say anything other than that they would like a choice of good candidates, preferably not called McIntosh.”
Nevertheless, Mr Miliband’s attack was widely seen to have wounded Mr Cameron, who has faced growing criticism that his party is increasingly male-dominated.
Polling by the Mumsnet website found Labour has a four-point lead among men – but enjoys a gaping 13-point advantage among women.
The 59-year-old Miss McIntosh, a North Yorkshire MP for 17 years, was de-selected last Friday, after a ballot of all Thirsk and Malton members.
She has been embroiled in a long-running and bitter dispute with the association’s executive over her style and her communication with party activists.
Miss McIntosh vowed to fight on, either by standing as an independent in Thirsk and Malton, or by pitching again to be the Tory candidate if an ‘open primary’ of all residents is held.
The MP has also requested talks with Mr Cameron. Today, a No.10 spokesman told The Northern Echo that he was not aware of any planned meeting.