Cameron in battle to regain trust of women

He's a turn-off for female voters research shows

David Cameron has launched a desperate attempt to win back female voters after new research for The Independent on Sunday shows the Prime Minister has a "trust deficit" with women that could cost him the next general election.

After his questionable handling of the sacking of senior women ministers in his reshuffle last week, the Prime Minister has ordered Maria Miller, the new Culture Secretary and Equalities Minister, to draw up plans to appeal to the female vote, ranging from help for women to set up their own businesses to reducing childcare costs.

This autumn a commission will set out plans for reducing the costs of childcare, as well as increasing access to nannies and childminders by reducing red tape. The new Education minister, Liz Truss, has been working on plans for reducing the burden on childcare providers as a backbencher and is involved in the plans.

Later this month, the Government will publish proposals, alongside the British Banking Association, for increased access to finance for pregnant women and mothers – so-called "mumpreneurs".

But research shows that the Prime Minister has a long way to go to win the trust of female voters. Analysis by ComRes for The IoS shows that Mr Cameron has a poll rating of about minus 25 per cent among women, compared with minus 18 per cent among men, who were asked whether they trust the PM on the economy. The gender gap has remained between 7 per cent and 12 per cent for several months.

A separate study by the Electoral Reform Society and the Fawcett Society shows that Mr Cameron is on course to break his pledge, made in April 2009, for a third of all government ministers to be female by the end of his first term. Female representation in government rose from 17.2 per cent before the reshuffle to 18.2 per cent after, and there is likely to be just one more reshuffle, if any, before the next election.

Following the government shake-up, there was one fewer woman in the Cabinet, one fewer female minister of state, although the number of women parliamentary under-secretaries, the most junior ministerial rank, has risen by three. There are nine government departments, including the Treasury, that have no female ministers, the report shows.

Mr Cameron is under fire for implying that the outgoing Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, was too old to remain in government by comparing her to Sir George Young (who left his job as Leader of the Commons at 71), even though her replacement Owen Paterson, at 56, is two years older than she is. There was also anger from Mr Cameron's own Tory benches for giving knighthoods to male junior ministers who were let go, but not honouring Ms Spelman, a former Conservative chairman, or Cheryl Gillan, the outgoing Welsh Secretary who served as a minister in John Major's government. The suggestion that Ms Gillan and Ms Spelman would instead be given peerages alarmed friends of both women who said they were not intending to stand down as MPs.

No 10 was also forced to deny that Mr Cameron drank wine as he sacked Ms Gillan in his Commons office on Monday evening, although it is understood he had been drinking wine beforehand. Ms Gillan's friends said she had been inundated with messages of support from women MPs on all sides of the House. The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, a fierce critic of the Prime Minister, tweeted: "If Cameron is handing out gongs to sacked ministers why didn't loyal, stoic, hard-working Cheryl Gillan get one? Or are they just for boys?"

The storm was reminiscent of the reaction to Mr Cameron's jibe to the Labour frontbencher Angela Eagle last year to "calm down, dear". Leading female trade unionists are likely to use this week's TUC Congress in Brighton to criticise the Prime Minister's record on women.

Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of Britain's largest union, Unite, described women's presence in the Cabinet as "pretty shocking". "For there to be fewer women around the cabinet table discussing critical issues that affect people's lives sends a terrible message. Women are most likely to be opposed to the cuts agenda, and are hardest hit."

Frances O'Grady, who becomes the TUC's first female general secretary at the end of this year, told the IoS: "In the lead-up to the election, we heard from the Conservative Party leadership about the need to detoxify the brand and look more like modern Britain and that has to be welcomed, but what's happened since doesn't really match up. Even down to that off-the-cuff comment about butch up, I was thinking, actually, they need to fem up. That's the real challenge for any party that wants to win women's votes."

Writing in The IoS today, Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary and Labour's spokesperson on women and equalities, said the Prime Minister had a "blind spot" when it came to women. She added: "We already know David Cameron has a problem with women. But the stories from the sacking of Caroline Spelman suggests he has a particular problem with older women, too. And it matters... because women across the country are being heavily hit by this government, and older women are getting particularly squeezed."

Ms Cooper said the pay gap between men and women is higher among older people than younger adults. She said these older women were part of the "stretched middle" who are also suffering the steepest rise in unemployment.

A poll of Tory members for ConservativeHome published yesterday found that 63 per cent believe Mr Cameron's handing out of knighthoods to sacked ministers was an "inappropriate use of the honours system". However, 74 per cent said they weren't concerned about the number of women in the Cabinet.

Mr Cameron has been aware of bad polling for his government among women for some time: internal polling shows women hate the austerity agenda, while female voters are consistently less supportive of the Conservatives than men.

The Chancellor's Budget in March went some way to winning women over, including lessening the cuts to child benefit – although George Osborne stopped short of scrapping the benefit reduction altogether.

Women's response

Ceri Goddard

Chief executive of the Fawcett Society

"David Cameron and other politicians must know that keeping their top tables male, pale and stale is not only unjust, but that ultimately – unless they take radical action – it will hit them where it hurts: in the ballot box."

Jenny Jones

Green Party, London Assembly member

"[David Cameron's] promise to have women as a third of the Cabinet is likely to be worth as much as his green promises, ie, worthless. To use talented women, you have to encourage them to step forward and create an atmosphere where they can do their best work. I don't believe he has the foggiest idea of how to create trust and enthusiasm."

Ann Widdecombe

Tory former minister

"I think [David Cameron] was doing a Cabinet reshuffle and he was going to make decisions which would affect women as well as men. I don't understand the culture of grievance. Women just go looking to find insults all the time."

Nadine Dorries

Tory backbencher

"I hate targets. Women don't like being obligatory numbers. It should be the best people that get promoted to the jobs. I think it was a silly thing to do to set a target."

Cheryl Gillan

Cabinet minister sacked last week

"My claws were temporarily sheathed, but they haven't lost their sharpness. I'm loyal to my party, but I don't agree with all government policy."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living