It was women wot won it for Blair

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Women deserted the Conservatives in droves at the general election, and their votes alone would have put Tony Blair into Downing Street, a confidential internal Labour Party report reveals, writes Paul Routledge.

The much-feared "gender gap" disappeared on polling day, with men and women voting for Labour in equal numbers.

Anecdotal and poll evidence had suggested that women were put off by the Labour leader. Some found him "smarmy", but this did not prevent 45 per cent of them from supporting him.

Tony Blair also appealed most strongly to younger voters. Fifty-six per cent of Britain's under-thirties voted Labour, compared with only 34 per cent of those aged 65 or over.

In terms of social class, the psephological report given to Labour's national executive committee last week recorded that 31 per cent of ABs voted Labour (42 per cent Conservative), as did 47 per cent of C1s (26 per cent Conservative) and 54 per cent of C2s (25 per cent Conservative). Sixty-one per cent of D and E class voted Labour (21 per cent Conservative).

Labour's targeting of C1s paid off, yielding a huge 15 per cent swing among skilled non-manual voters, which was instrumental in the gains in outer London and the Home Counties.

In all, Labour won 65.5 per cent of the seats it contested - a bigger landslide than in 1945. About one in seven - 1.8 million - people who voted Conservative in 1992 switched to Labour, and an estimated one million Conservatives stayed at home.

"This level of direct switching from one main party to another is highly unusual and represents a fundamental shift in the balance of power in the electorate," the report argues.

Labour's overall vote at 13.5 million was the highest it had achieved since 1951, and the Tories' 9.5 million tally was their lowest since 1945, when there were nine million fewer voters.

The Liberal Democrats' 5.2 million votes and 17.2 per cent share were the lowest for a third party since 1979, the report adds.

Labour won 90 of the 91 "key seats" identified as vital to success, and the swing in these seats was 11.8 per cent. This trend confirmed the wisdom of Labour's strategy, which will be adopted at the next election.

MPs in key seats who have no hope of securing ministerial posts are already being urged to nurse their constituencies.