Women dismayed by Clarke's 'Peter and Paul' Budget

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The Independent Online
Women have given the Budget the thumbs-down, according to a private Labour Party sample of floating voters.

Typical comments from women voters were "they're just robbing Peter to pay Paul" and "That penny [off tax] you get, gets paid out in petrol."

The findings of a private focus group of C1 and C2 class voters of both sexes who have switched their votes in the past and now claim to be "weak Labour identifiers" will make bleak reading for the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke.

The focus group, which was interviewed in Slough, Berkshire, immediately after the Budget was "deeply underwhelmed", according to the party's internal report.

"Give with one hand, take with the other has really stuck," the paper discloses. "It was repeated mantra-like by the respondents. Tory credibility on taxes seems truly shot to pieces. There was a universal feeling that income tax cuts would be offset by indirect tax rises."

Men said things like "I know they're trying to buy my vote" and "they say I've got pounds 100 from the income tax cut, but I'll have at least pounds 105 to pay from all the other taxes."

The women's verdict was that the Budget chiefly benefited the very rich. "If you earn pounds 156,000, you're pounds 8 a week better off. If you earn pounds 10,000, you're pounds 1 a week better off. Bloody typical!" said one woman respondent.

The general view among women was "it's a nothing Budget - it's done nothing for me.' Labour's analysis records: "This leaves them feeling cheated and (especially women) feeling patronised. The Budget may help to solidify support for Labour, only in so far as it firms their belief that 'things can't get much worse'."

Women also mistrusted Mr Clarke's bullish view of the economy. "Better exports than Japan? That doesn't stack up," and "if there are new jobs coming in, it's not because of them" were typical comments by women respondents.

Reactions to the Chancellor's television broadcast and the Labour response by Shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown also revealed a gender gap. Women found Mr Clarke "smarmy, out of touch and patronising" while some men were won over by his "swaggering, confident, professional" style. One man responded: "He's the consummate politician."

Labour's report says that Gordon Brown's broadcast was felt to be more credible and sympathetic in tone among women. But "worryingly, this broadcast did provoke the knee-jerk response 'where will the money come from?' "

The report concludes: "There is a danger that the economic attack is too pessimistic to meet the public mood. This needs a very careful balance."

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