Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Conservatives beware - women voters might walk away

One of the main reasons for the Conservatives' electoral dominance in the twentieth century was the Party's popularity among women voters.

This 'gender gap', in which women voted for the Conservatives in much greater numbers than men, gradually faded away in the 1980s and 1990s, though the gap was only closed finally at the 2005 general election.

Scholars reckon that women were put off by the 'macho' and male-dominated culture of the trade unions and the Labour Party, choosing perhaps to take out their frustration with their own Labour-supporting husbands within the privacy of the ballot box. Inflation, that bugbear of anti-Labour voters and thought from the 1940s onwards, hit housewives disproportionately hard as they shopped for household goods. The Conservatives appealed to an idealised vision of family life, for instance in the 1959 election, during which the party put up poster after poster of a happy family tucking into a huge dinner or watching their new television.

And so on. Mrs Thatcher, with an appeal to women voters all her own, was later to mix these elements together in a powerful electoral cocktail.

Now that's all at risk. Why? Because the evolving economic and social situation is turning women off the Coalition in their droves. Most of the Coalition's falling poll ratings are due to women turning away from its message and intent.

Retail price inflation is raging again. Women are much more likely to lose their (low paid, part time) jobs in this Great Recession than are men. Pension changes seem to be discriminating against women, especially older women who are likely to vote. The withdrawal of some public sector services (for instance Sure Start Centres) will make most women's lives much, much more difficult and exhausting. Most of the Government's key figures are men. David Cameron's 'calm down, dear' quips don't help.

Right now, David Cameron has the opportunity to remake the political scene and emerge as a new type of centrist Baldwinite Conservative.

But he ignores women voters at its peril. If this continues, it won't be Baldwin he'll be compared to. It'll be the one-term Prime Minister Edward Heath.

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