Critics of the Trade and Industry Secretary seized on his remarks during a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference in Blackpool. He was sharing a platform with Ken Jackson, general secretary of the AEEU engineering union, which has launched a campaign to ensure more working-class people are selected as Labour parliamentary candidates.
Mr Mandelson said: "It would be a disaster if in meeting the point Ken has been making, we ended up with some tidy quota system of blue-collar, working-class, northern, horny-handed, dirty-overalled people. Merit is the most important word here."
His comments raised eyebrows at the meeting, and later David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, said the description of the working class used by Mr Mandelson was "rather outdated".
Aides of Mr Mandelson said his tongue-in-cheek remark had been taken completely out of context and some people's perception of it was not what he had intended.Reuse content