Lib Democrats in push to win women's vote

... while the party's leader looks to the future for his support
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Indy Politics
The Liberal Democrats will become the latest political party to make a concerted push for the women's vote today.

Their spring conference coincides with International Women's Day and they will seize on this fact to highlight pro-women policies on health and education.

Shirley Williams, the party's best-known female politician, will use this weekend's gathering in Cardiff as a launch-pad for a high-profile election effort which will aim to win over female voters. Baroness Williams is expected to appear frequently for the party during the campaign, taking a major national role and making a number of media appearances.

Diana Maddock, who speaks for the parliamentary party on women's issues, claimed at a rally last night that it could make the face of Westminster more women-friendly.

"It is time we stopped having more MPs called John than women MPs," she said. The Liberal Democrats would be "more geared towards co-operation in finding solutions to the key issues than confrontation".

In a debate on health today, the party's health spokesman, Simon Hughes, will claim it is committed to promoting equal treatment of the sexes within the health service, which is primarily used by women.

The Liberal Democrats would require hospitals to publish details of diagnoses and treatments by gender so that discrepancies could be identified and tackled, he will say.

In addition, the party would ask GPs' surgeries and other health facilities to operate flexible opening hours so that they would be more accessible to women, and would set targets to make it easier for women to consult female doctors and other health professionals.

Mr Hughes will also spell out a six-point "challenge" to the other parties on health, asking them to halt closures, invest in staff, set a six-month maximum for waiting lists, restore free dental and eye checks, set up a national inspectorate to monitor care and end the two-tier service with the private sector.

The party will use its weekend conference to highlight its policies on women and work. It says that it would bring in tougher obligations on employers to establish equal opportunities procedures and would introduce legislation for equal treatment which would increase responsibilities covering recruitment, pay and promotion.

Lord Home, chairman of the party's general election campaign, used last night's rally to attack both the Conservatives and Labour.

"I woke up in the middle of last night with a frightening thought. What if cloning humans was not two years away? What if it was already here? What if Michael Howard had been cloned as Jack Straw and Kenneth Clarke as Gordon Brown?

"I can hear Labour's campaign song now. It's Hello Dolly," he said.