Nick Clegg has backed imposing all-women shortlists on the Liberal Democrats if the party fails to boost its proportion of female MPs at next year’s general election.
The Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged his embarrassment that just 12 per cent of the Lib Dem MPs elected in 2010 were women, which compares with 16 per cent of Tories and 34 per cent of Labour MPs.
Only three of the seven female Lib Dem MPs are ministers, none of whom is in the Cabinet, prompting David Cameron to tell his Coalition partners publicly that they needed to do more to “pull their weight on that issue”.
Mr Clegg said today that his party was committed to increasing its tally of women MPs through mentoring and support for female candidates.
He said women were standing at the general election in five of the six seats so far being vacated by retiring Lib Dem MPs.
Speaking at a Thomson Reuters event in London, he added: “If that does not prove to be successful in the election next year, then I personally feel we will need to do something more draconian.
“I would then be minded as leader to say to my party, controversial as it is: ‘It is just not working, we have got to bite the bullet and impose gender-based shortlists’.”
Mr Clegg acknowledged the imposition of all-women shortlists would run into opposition within the party.
“It divides Liberal opinion. Some people think it is tokenism and leads to a sense of unfairness,” he said.
He said his party’s lack of safe seats compared with the Tories or Labour make it harder to “hand constituencies in a hand-picked way to candidates based on their gender”.
Labour has adopted all-women shortlists in two general elections.
The move has always been strongly opposed by senior Conservatives, although the idea has gained some backing within the party after several women elected for the first time in 2010 announced they were stepping down next year.
Mr Cameron once said he wanted one third of his ministerial team would be women, but has so far fallen well short of that target.