Yvonne Roberts: This is why so many mothers reject Labour

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The Independent Online

Website Wendy may take over from Worcester Woman as the voter the politicians need to fear. In 1997 and 2001, Worcester Woman came good for Labour, and middle-class Mr Blair. Now, according to a poll by the parents' website, Netmums, while a third of mothers – including single parents – said they would vote Tory in an election, only 18 per cent would back Labour – a crushing swing of 13.5 per cent.

One poll doesn't point every Labour politician to the door marked "Exit" but it's bound to have many of them stomping up and down their shag-pile carpets, muttering: "How can women be so ungrateful?" We give them a national childcare strategy, tax credits, improved parental and carers' rights, children's centres – we even put a couple of females in the Cabinet, and it's still not enough. Well, on that last point, they're right. It isn't enough.

On paper "the offer" sounds generous, much more than the Tories are probably going to propose (there's the dilemma). But somehow, too often, that offer has failed to gel in practice, especially for those who might benefit the most.

Once women have a family, according to pollsters, many move to the right. So some of Netmums' defectors may be returning to their natural home. But even for die-hard Labour female supporters, too many of the Government's policies fail to hang together coherently. As a result, the struggle to balance paid work and home, for thousands, has become more of a struggle – not less.

Control-mad Labour has metaphorically shoved blind-folded families on average incomes or less into a maze of short-lived initiatives, strategies, interventions, tax credits, benefits and targets. The system has grown more complex, so for many, choices have narrowed down to taking jobs that are often part-time, low paid, insecure and offer little advantage over a life on benefits.

In areas devastated by the end of heavy industry during the Thatcher era, reasonably paid jobs are as scarce as affordable good-quality childcare that fits with shift work. For some families that means both mother and father taking two part-time jobs, seeing each other rarely. For others, the first generation to experience unemployment has now slipped into the second and third.

In this context "worklessness" – a nasty coded word used by politicians of all parties, which implies that the individual is responsible – is a mix of depression, frustration and a sound decision. For the sake of the family's income, it makes no sense to take a job ending up with less on which to live. And thus, aspiration is suffocated.

Women, like men, cast their vote for a variety of reasons, including a vision of a society that is fair, just and socially mobile. Instead, under Labour, the UK's ladder of opportunity has been whisked away. As the Hills report points out starkly, the divide between rich and poor is greater after 13 years of Labour rule than at any time since the Second World War.

Gordon Brown has five months to convince us that Labour will put the ladder back in place. But for the children of many of the mothers who trusted Labour last time round, it's already far too late. And that's the tragedy.

One-woman Woods? Believe it if you can

Sometimes, the inklings of a shift in public attitudes can occur in the most surprising places – such as the copulation-free zone of Tiger Woods's sex addiction rehab centre. According to the US website RadarOnline, Woods's wife, Elin Nordegren, has just ended a five-day visit to her husband – who is allegedly losing £600,000 an hour in sponsorship deals – and has changed her mind about proceeding with her £200m divorce.

The clinic requires patients to undergo couples' therapy that includes a "disclosure day" in which cheating partners admit all their secret affairs. Tiger must have finally reached the end of his list.

In the glorious days of "Back to Basics", when it seemed as if every other Tory MP had a wife in the shires and a mistress or two in town, the general consensus when a woman stood by her man, was, "Is she mad?", followed by, "He won't change".

Perhaps, now, however, the mood is shifting. Are more of us (and not just Posh and Becks) entering the era of the second-chance saloon? Marriage is unpopular but commitment still has an army of fans.

In a research paper on relationships published recently by Newcastle University, 60 per cent of separated people had wanted to save their relationship. That's a poignant message for every child involved. So, if Mrs Woods is willing to believe that her husband can transform into a one-woman man, who are we to exercise doubt? Although, I have to admit, it is tempting.

A study that pays to be in everyone's dreams

According to psychology professor Norbert Schwartz, one of the authors of a study conducted by the University of Michigan, making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour or sleep a night.

Studies such as these creep into the surreal. How do they know? Do the researchers provide the money and then deprive you of sleep, standing at the foot of your bed clipboard in hand? Do they not realise that the lack of cash in the bank is often the reason why you lie awake hour after hour?

And if I'm broke and snooze for 12 hours a night am I really happier than the insomniac millionaire earning another $60,000 even as he whiles away his time, listening to the full repertoire of the World Service?

I suspect that the answer is, only in your dreams, professor.

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