Editor-At-Large: Mondeo Man is dead. Women will swing the election

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The average Brit reckons they have just three true friends, I read last week. That makes Gordon Brown, once he's counted the wife and the kids, pretty normal. The same survey found we lose touch with at least 36 friends over the years, almost half of whom we dump after a row. Does it all sound familiar? Gordon certainly had a dreadful week, his own colleagues queuing up to stick the boot in, and several letting it be known that if he lingers on for the next election, he'll face a John Major-style drubbing. Sadly, it's probably easier to flog cars than sign up voters of any persuasion right now.

It's fashionable to find Brown embarrassing, but the man genuinely does care about women's rights, even though he's spent years surrounded by macho types like Damian McBride and Ed Balls. Brown likes beer, football and the company of men whose lives revolve around politics, but his lack of social skills shouldn't obscure the fact that he has some very determined women such as Baroness Vadera and Harriet Harman at the heart of government. Sarah Brown herself is not short of ideas and has a strong social conscience. Instead of obsessing about blogs, Gordon needs to work out how to engage with women, because the next election will be won by the party that can reconnect with female voters and persuade them their agenda is being listened to.

The sight of a half-empty House of Commons last week debating whether to continue to employ their own wives and children was repellent. Listening to these self-important blokes (and it was mostly white, middle-class middle-aged men in crumpled suits) justifying their expenses, their allowances and their subsidised living arrangements will have played really badly with women all over the country struggling to feed their families, working long hours in poorly paid jobs, wondering how to pay for their kids' new clothes.

Most people in politics tend to see the world from this narrow, male viewpoint. One of Gordon's former ministers, David Cairns, has written a piece in the left-wing Progress magazine lamenting the fact that the Government no longer speaks to Mondeo Man – the aspiring, white, former working-class voters of outer London, the Midlands, Kent and Essex who were Tories, but who voted Labour in 1997. Cairns was a Roman Catholic priest who trained in Rome and was a political researcher before he entered Parliament. He is unmarried. His interest is speaking Italian. Not someone who sounds as if they'd connect with most working women. In 2009, we're talking about policy in a way that 50 per cent of voters will find risible. What about the female bread-winners, the single mothers, the women who work three times as hard as their male counterpart to earn at least 10 per cent less? Mondeo Man is an irrelevance in modern Britain.

Meanwhile the Tories have only 17 female MPs out of a total of 125. David Cameron, who stood on the platform at his spring conference surrounded by his top team, mostly men, now says he wants a third of his ministers to be women. I'll believe it when I see it. Harriet Harman was much sneered at for introducing a bill to end class discrimination in the workplace recently, but we haven't even got a House of Commons that represents women and ethnic voters. The next election looks like being a pretty macho affair.

Bella donna Lario eclipses poisonous husband Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi's wife, unlike Gordon Brown, has turned a potentially embarrassing week into a total triumph. Discovering that her husband had chosen to visit the birthday party in Naples of a nubile 18-year-old, who told the press she called him "Daddy", and was busy lining up four glamorous starlets as candidates to the European Parliament, she decided to fight back. Veronica Lario, the long-suffering spouse of the Italian premier, fired off an email to the press describing Silvio's plans as "shamelessly tacky", adding, "My children are victims in this situation... We must endure it and it causes us pain." And, just to make sure no one was in any doubt, she added, "He never came to the 18th birthday parties of any of his children, even though he was invited."

Now, just one of the glamour girls – Barbara Matera, a former actress and one-time Miss Italy contestant – has made it to the final shortlist. Berlusconi is shameless: he claims his growing harem of young women is a way of "refreshing" politics, and dismissed the other parties' candidates as "evil-smelling and badly dressed". At 72, Silvio seems in urgent need of counselling – but he's living out a fantasy on behalf of his male voters. I suspect he's just a sad, lonely old git.

The devil told me to eat more food

Talk about telling us the obvious – scientists in the US reckon the reason why some of us over-indulge is triggered by a "devil" part of the brain, which can override the "angel" section controlling sensible behaviour. I always thought a life of excess was personal choice, but now we can blame our physical makeup. It's not my fault I'm fat, it really is the fault of my brain!

People who have the strength of will to resist stuffing themselves with burgers and chocolate have better developed "angel" centres – or to use the correct terminology, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). It can only be a matter of time before we'll be offered mind-altering drugs which hopefully will seduce the devil sections to calm down. I'll be refusing them – it all sounds too sinister for words.

Sun in summer? Wow, thanks

Weather forecasters try to justify their ludicrous job in a variety of weird ways. There's a guy on Look North in Yorkshire whose ties dominate the screen to such an extent I can't tell grasp what climatic conditions he's talking about, but I do know that Humberside will be disappearing under a cloud of blue and red stripes. When we get a lousy summer, like last year, secretly we blame these characters. Why the hell can't they sort out El Niño or whoever is responsible for rain the whole of August? A chap on Radio 4 with a clipped slightly camp accent crisply told me the other day to expect "spits and spots", whatever they may be. Much rejoicing last week when the Met Office predicted "a barbecue summer", which turns out to mean there's a 30 per cent chance it will be normal temperatures and a 50 per cent chance it will be slightly above average. Hardly time to hang out the bunting.