`My problem is that earnest but sexless perma-smile'

`When Mr Blair talks his eyes are distant, already focused on the next soundbite'
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The Independent Online
I should be gagging for Tony Blair. According to the polls, my sex, age and political leanings combined with his enlightened, female- friendly credentials make us the perfect partnership. It should be only a matter of time before we are walking up the electoral aisle together.

After all, it is women that were largely responsible for Bill Clinton's convincing return to the presidency yesterday. And Mr Blair, like Mr Clinton, has all the right ingredients.

Mr Blair likes strong, ambitious women, no matter how unpopular they may be with the media. He advocates a ministry for women, but does not want to see their concerns compartmentalised. He is a devoted family man with deeply held moral beliefs. He cooks. He cleans. He probably makes his own pesto sauce.

So why am I, and apparently a growing chunk of the female population, wondering whether Tony is, in fact, Mr Right? No man ever likes to admit he's been rejected. And Mr Blair's office was almost apoplectic yesterday in its denials that he was striving to win back the female vote (with, among other things, a rather dashing new hairstyle - and we all know how important hair is to women, don't we?).

But the fact is that over the past year, despite Labour's convincing lead, the number of women impressed with the leadership has diminished. Last month a MORI poll showed only 43 per cent of women were satisfied with his efforts, compared with 60 per cent of men.

Why? A brief, unscientific poll of three female Labour voters reveals the following descriptions of Mr B: "oily", "insincere", "slimy git". A little harsh, but the dislike appears to be instinctive. Women have finely tuned insincerity antennae, and the skills that make him an effective politician are what make him a turn-off. He is handsome, but curiously unsexy. John Smith, with his honest smile and kind eyes, was infinitely sexier. Blair, with his perma-smile, is like the earnest, thrusting young man your mother would have wanted you to go out with. That fixed rictus, exuding smug, chummy mateyness reminds us of the Cheshire cat.

Clinton's strength is his ability to engage. Or appear to. When Mr Blair talks, his eyes are distant, apparently already focused on the next soundbite. At the sight of a camera the grin snaps into place like a bear trap. Worryingly, it never reaches his eyes.

His pragmatism, and determination to give people what they want to hear suggests all the men that have ever tried a dozen lines in the hope that one will hit the jackpot.

And because we don't quite trust him, all those assurances he makes about women and families and equal opportunities are strangely ineffective. We want to believe him, just as we do the man selling us double glazing or a new car, but we can't quite manage it.

Most of us will vote for him anyway, simply because the alternative is so much worse. But we are left wanting to like him better than we do. And with women making up 52 per cent of the population, that should be of real concern to Labour.

The answer? Nothing too contrived - smile less, promise less, try a little less hard to please. A few dark skeletons in the cupboard would perhaps give him that attractively dark edge. (It worked for Paddy, after all). All else failing - I'd suggest another alternative. Gordon Brown. Now there's a man . . .

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