Duncan Smith: All-women lists mean second-rate MPs

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Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leadership contender, triggered criticism yesterday when he claimed that all-women shortlists had swept second-rate MPs into Parliament.

The shadow defence secretary said the lists, used to select 35 "Blair Babes" for the 1997 election, had not produced "high-quality" politicians.

His comments to a website, together with a BBC radio interview to be broadcast today, also drew accusations from Kenneth Clarke's camp that he had broken their agreement to honour a two-week "truce" in the leadership race.

Mr Duncan Smith's remarks will be seen as a snub to such high-profile Labour MPs as Sally Keeble, the junior housing minister, Maria Eagle, the junior Home Office minister, and Fiona Mactaggart, picked through the scheme before it was outlawed.

The former Tory leadership contender Michael Portillo had backed Labour's manifesto commitment to legalising all-women shortlists, claiming that there was a "chronic shortage" of women in the party.

Mr Duncan Smith told the political website ePolitix.com that he wanted more women MPs, butinsisted that "All-women shortlists have not been a success for Labour... Instead of people who are high quality, what we've actually got is people who haven't really performed as politicians."

Fiona Mactaggart, Labour MP for Slough, said his criticisms were "patronising nonsense" that offered nothing to "women who have suffered the gross sexism" of the Conservative selection process.