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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • 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: Contact Centre Advisor

£19500 - £21500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading children's chariti...

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor