A NORTH-East MP apologised last night after branding leading Conservative women MPs “puppets” who are interesting only for their clothes.

Helen Goodman, the Bishop Auckland MP, faced fierce criticism after backing a newspaper’s controversial “catwalk” coverage of the new Cabinet.

The Daily Mail has come under fire for sexism after a double-page feature focused on the hair, clothes, shoes, handbags – and even the legs – of promoted female Cabinet ministers.

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But, yesterday, Ms Goodman tweeted: “#Mail's page on Tory women was fair: all are puppets who'll change nothing and their appearance really is most interesting thing about them.”

The comment triggered a major Westminster row, with immediate demands for Labour’s culture spokeswoman to withdraw the “demeaning slur”.

Anna Soubrey, the defence minister, said: “Helen Goodman's comments were deliberately insulting. She should personally apologise to every one of the talented women she has chosen to cheaply slur.

“Ed Miliband needs to make clear that these comments are absolutely unacceptable otherwise once again we will see that he is too weak to stand up to his own shadow ministers.”

And Nicky Morgan, the new Education Secretary, said: “Helen Goodman's comments were disgraceful and there is no place for them in modern politics.”

A letter sent to Mr Miliband demanded that the Labour leader “take disciplinary action” against the Bishop Auckland MP, unless she backed down.

Initially, Ms Goodman attempted to ride out the storm, arguing the comment had been meant as a joke and saying: “I'm very sorry my last tweet offended some people. I intended it as a light-hearted remark.”

And Labour declined to criticise her, telling The Northern Echo: “The Labour Party’s view is that David Cameron’s promises on increasing the representation of women are a sham.

“He said a third of all his ministers would be women - fewer than one in four are. It is David Cameron who has failed.”

However, more than three hours later – as criticism intensified – Ms Goodman tweeted: “I was wrong in what I tweeted about Tory women ministers and I apologise to them unreservedly.”

In the much-ridiculed Mail feature, Elizabeth Truss, the new Environment Secretary, was described as looking “bright and sensible but a little bit too eighties air hostess”.

And the newspaper called work minister Esther McVey a “thigh-flashing vision in grey check by Vivienne Westwood”.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg poked fun at the Mail, posting a photo of himself wearing a suit, shirt and trademark Liberal Democrat yellow tie - and joking that he hoped he did not look “too 80s cabin attendant”.