Women parliamentarians could be rendered “invisible” if the next Commons Speaker is a man, one of the leading candidates to replace John Bercow in the chair has claimed.
Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman said having a female Speaker would show the country that Parliament has modernised and that men and women are on an equal footing.
The Mother of the House – a title bestowed on the longest continually-serving female MP – also warned that extremism could rise unless MPs restore public faith in Parliament.
In an interview on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Ms Harman said: “We’ve had 157 Speakers so far in our Parliament’s history – only one woman ever.
“Now that’s partly because Parliament used to be a parliament of men. Politics was what men did: women abided by the decisions and men made them, but things have changed and in fact Parliament has changed.
“We’ve now got more than 200 women members of the House of Commons and I think it would show that Parliament has changed to have a woman in the chair.”
She continued: “We’ve got a man as Prime Minister, a man as leader of the opposition, a man as leader of the SNP – the third largest party.
“If we put a man in the chair it will render all those women invisible and I think we do need to show women and men in the country that Parliament has changed, it has modernised, and one of those big changes is that women and men are on an equal footing.
She also said social media presented new challenges for female MPs.
“Whenever there is progress there is always a backlash and there are some misogynists who believe that women should be just shutting up, not actually speaking out in public,” Ms Harman explained.
“And social media allows people anonymously to really do a tirade of abuse and threats which is on all MPs but particularly on women MPs.”
On the risk of extremism, she told the programme: “I think it is a very difficult and challenging time for our parliamentary democracy and divisions over Brexit and the additional casualty from those divisions has been public trust and confidence in our Parliament.
“I believe that is very serious indeed because if there’s a vacuum there then extremism can move in and fill that gap.”
The election of the next Commons Speaker will take place on November 4, after Mr Bercow – who has held the office since 2009 – takes the chair for the final time on October 31.
It will be presided over by the Father of the House – former chancellor Ken Clarke.