A former aide to Gordon Brown has warned that Labour will not regain power until it offers hope and jobs to a generation of young men who have turned their backs on the party.
Kirsty McNeill, one of Mr Brown's closest advisers while he was Prime Minister, said the previous Labour government's emphasis on enabling more women to enter the workplace meant that it had neglected young men.
Although she described herself as a "Labour feminist", Ms McNeill said: "The preoccupation of both Tory strategists and Labour feminists with women voters can't disguise Labour's challenge: we've got man trouble."
Challenging the widely held view in Labour circles that the "women's vote" wins elections, Ms McNeill warned: "We didn't lose the 2010 election because we haemorrhaged women's support, but because we didn't turn out enough women to counteract our decline with men."
In an article for Fabian Review magazine to be published next week, Ms McNeill said: "While Labour was relatively quick to understand and shape the policy imperatives around women's accelerating entry to the workplace, we were far too slow to grasp... the way in which globalisation and the decline of collective bargaining [had] changed the nature of masculinity at work.
"Traditional 'male' jobs, characterised by skill, status and stability, have broadly disappeared: work in mines, yards and plants has been replaced with high-turnover, insecure, service industry jobs for which boys compete with the girls who outperformed them at school and outnumbered them at college."
Ms McNeill said that although higher employment levels among women raised household incomes during Labour's years in power, the gains were wiped out by male wage stagnation and unemployment, which "left a generation of men – Labour's men – behind".
She warned: "We won't bring home the political goods until we are comfortable talking about jobs for the boys."
Recalling that Labour began as a working man's party, she said its traditional goal of male employment should lead to Labour's next majority by "bringing men back home" to the party.
Ms McNeill, now a consultant, suggested that Labour should also refine its message to women. "While female voters consistently put immigration and crime in their top five concerns, feminist staples like pornography and women's imprisonment simply don't get a polling look in," she warned.
Labour figures believe the party's "man trouble" was a big factor in its surprise defeat in last week's Bradford West by-election. Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, said: "George Galloway's unexpected triumph proved that Labour cannot take the votes of low-income men for granted. Labour needs to listen to what they have to say and come up with fresh ideas and a different tone of voice to address the social and economic dislocation highlighted by Kirsty McNeill."Reuse content