The two female candidates in the Labour leadership race have hit back at the "gross insult" from a shadow Cabinet colleague who suggested they would find leading the party too "challenging".
Lord Falconer said he was backing Andy Burnham because he was the only candidate who could avoid a “damaging split” in the party.
He wrote in The Times that neither Yvette Cooper nor Liz Kendall could "steer the Labour party through the challenging few years ahead of us" and predicted neither of them would beat Jeremy Corbyn, the hard-left candidate.But hitting back this morning, Ms Kendall said the "depressing" comments were a "gross insult" to the contribution women had made to the Labour party.
"It is depressing to see a senior man in the party dismiss the contribution of women so easily," she said.
"Charlie [Falconer] made a great contribution to the last Labour government and I would have thought he would have learned that one of the reasons we achieved so much was because there was a record number of women around the top table.
"For Charlie to say that women somehow aren't tough enough to lead the Labour Party is a gross insult and, as for standing up to Jeremy Corbyn, I'm the only candidate who has been saying he would be a disaster for our party and that I wouldn't serve in his shadow cabinet, unlike the candidate Charlie is supporting."
A source in Ms Cooper's campaign was equally angry. "The real question many of our MPs are asking is: 'does Andy [Burnham] believe women aren't up to the job?'"
However a spokesperson for Mr Burnham's campaign insisted the issue of gender was "categorically not what the piece is about".
“It is not about gender; it is misleading to suggest that there is any element of sexism in it from the Burnham campaign; it’s simply about the best candidate, which is Andy, which is what the piece argues and which the Ipsos Mori poll showed," the spokesperson said.
Lord Falconer, who shared a flat with Tony Blair and served in his and Gordon Brown's cabinets said he was endorsing Mr Burnham because he was the only candidate who could build a “bold new radical programme for Labour” that could win back voters in Scotland, England and Wales and the only potential leader who could appeal to people who voted for the Tories, the SNP or Ukip in 2015.
Explaining why he did not think Ms Cooper or Ms Kendall were up to the job of leading the party, Lord Falconer wrote: “Both have a big future in our party. But neither Yvette nor Liz can steer the Labour party through the challenging few years ahead of us when we need a leader who can reach out to all wings of our party and provide unity. As a result, both Liz and Yvette are unlikely to beat Jeremy."
Each of the three mainstream candidates in the leadership contest are working out how to counter the urge in support for Mr Corbyn, who started as the rank outsider.
The first poll of Labour members this week showed Mr Corbyn on 43 per cent and Mr Burnham on 26 per cent, with Ms Cooper on 20 per cent and Liz Kendall on 11 per cent.
It led to calls for Ms Kendall to drop out of the race and throw her support behind one of the other mainstream candidates to ensure one of them secures enough votes to beat Mr Corbyn, the veteran left-winger. However she rejected the calls and insisted she would "never stop fighting for what you believe in".
Ms Cooper's allies are privately worried that Mr Corbyn's surprise lead in the contest could benefit Mr Burnham. “If people draw back from backing Corbyn, they will see Andy as the next best thing,” one Labour MP said.
To prevent Mr Burnham from emerging as the "stop Jeremy Corbyn candidate," Ms Cooper has launched a campaign against the Government's welfare cuts, despite toeing the party line to abstain on George Osborne's welfare reforms earlier this week.
Mr Burnham faced a fierce backlash from his own supporters when he performed an immediate U-turn after abstaining on the same bill.
He wrote on his Facebook that Labour "simply cannot abstain" in its opposition to the Government's welfare reforms - just minutes after abstaining in a vote on those very measures in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.Reuse content