Election '97: Party squabbles turn off women, say Lib-Dems

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The Independent Online
Women voters are being turned off the general election by the endless inter-party squabbling, the Liberal Democrats claimed yesterday.

Politicians risked alienating women into not voting at all if the debates failed to address the issues which mattered to them, the party said.

Veteran campaigner Shirley Williams said she was "deeply worried" that women appeared to be turned off by the "cruel" and "adversarial" style of politics displayed so far.

On the doorsteps, they were keen to discuss policy, particularly education and the NHS, but that was not what was happening on the national stage.

Baroness Williams said they were doing their best to be honest. "You can't get better services without paying for them one way or another. It's an inescapable, difficult choice."

She pointed to what happened in the America presidential elections to highlight the importance of women's votes.

Bill Clinton had 18 per cent more support among women than his Republican opponent Bob Dole because the Democrats had stressed the issues which mattered to women - education, health and the community.

Baroness Williams said: "Women won the election for Clinton."

The difference between America and Britain lay in the Liberal Democrats' determination not to neglect the large number of women in poverty. "[We] won't pass by those men and women, but particularly women, who are badly paid and desperate to make ends meet who have been forgotten in this election."

Lord Holme, the party's campaign manager, said the number of women among the "don't knows" and undecideds was "extraordinarily high". Nearly two- thirds of those yet to decide were women.

"The danger is that some are so antagonised by the Punch and Judy show that they are not voting," he said.

Aina Khan, a Muslim solicitor and Lib-Dem candidate in Ilford South, said that when she was out canvassing, she was encountering the problem of the head of the household dictating how members of a family voted, particularly among ethnic minorities in her constituency.

"Nearly always the women will say, 'My husband will want me to vote Labour', and they have an instinct to vote Liberal Democrat and they are almost torn in loyalties." She said she stressed to them that nobody actually knew how anyone voted in a secret ballot.