Blair's efforts to woo female voters fall flat

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR is still "unappealing" to women - despite the Prime Minister's efforts to woo female voters, Labour's private polling has found.

The Government will next week launch a "listening to women" roadshow, with ministers touring the country canvassing opinion, in an attempt to combat these overwhelmingly negative views.

The move follows research which has found that the Prime Minister is failing to charm women - especially middle-class white-collar workers - because they believe he does not understand their lives.

Focus groups of women held across the country have repeatedly found that Mr Blair is perceived to be "out of touch" and "remote" from ordinary people. Women have commented that he is "smarmy", has "no perception" of what their existence is like, and that they feel the Government is run by men for men.

The poll results will be worrying to the Prime Minister, who is acutely aware of the importance of female voters. Before the election, Mr Blair was said to have flattened his bouffant hairstyle as part of a concerted effort to build bridges with women. Labour prided itself on having closed the "gender gap" between male and female voters for the first time in 1997.

After winning power, the Prime Minister appointed a minister for women to sit at the Cabinet table in an attempt to prove his commitment to female voters since coming to power. The Government has also unveiled a series of "female-friendly" policies, including the National Childcare Strategy and the extension of maternity leave. Baroness Jay, the current minister for women, as well as Leader of the Lords, recently relaunched the "Women's Unit" - now based in the Cabinet Office - with a high-profile call for more role models for teenage girls.

However, Downing Street has been warned that these initiatives have done nothing to repair Mr Blair's relative unpopularity with women. Although the Prime Minister retains high poll results across the population, female voters complain that they do not like the "laddishness" of the New Labour administration - exemplified by the football-loving culture of the new establishment. They have also criticised the literature and leaflets produced by the Government, saying they seem aimed more at men than women.

Baroness Jay and Tessa Jowell will next week launch a campaign to get women more involved in the process of government. They are planning to hold public meetings around the country to ask women, particularly those who would not normally get involved in politics, what they would like the Government to do on issues such as health and education. They are also planning to send postcards out through women's magazines, such as Chat and Marie Claire, which will allow readers to send in their ideas to the Government.

The women's unit is planning to publish the results of polls, conducted by the Government's so-called "People's Panel", about the priorities of female voters. However, Labour is unlikely to make public the results of focus groups about Mr Blair's personal standing.