Women voters want more than blandishments from Mr Blair to return to the Labour fold

Share

Tony Blair's so-called "strategy of masochism" was on full display yesterday when he submitted himself to questions from discontented women voters on live television. He assumed a low-key, long-suffering and determinedly modest demeanour. A St Sebastian placidly accepting the arrows, he refused to be riled. But to say that he answered their questions would be an exaggeration. For the most part, he did not: he defended himself as a beleaguered prime minister trying to do his best under adverse circumstances.

Tony Blair's so-called "strategy of masochism" was on full display yesterday when he submitted himself to questions from discontented women voters on live television. He assumed a low-key, long-suffering and determinedly modest demeanour. A St Sebastian placidly accepting the arrows, he refused to be riled. But to say that he answered their questions would be an exaggeration. For the most part, he did not: he defended himself as a beleaguered prime minister trying to do his best under adverse circumstances.

This does not make for satisfactory television or for satisfactory campaigning. No one has to tell Mr Blair that women are a difficult and dangerous constituency. Successive polls show that female voters, having flocked to support him eight years ago, are now flirting with his opponents, or threatening not to vote at all. If Mr Blair can find a way to woo a good proportion of them back, the chances of a solid Labour victory are enhanced. If not ...

This "if not" should be a matter of urgent concern to Labour campaign managers, not just because there has been such a decline in women voters' enthusiasm for Labour, but because none of the supposedly female-friendly initiatives taken recently appears to be having the slightest effect. As both yesterday's television encounter and a new ICM poll show, not one of the six areas covered by the Labour pledge card receives a positive response. In four of the six areas, including crime and national security, the response is strongly negative. Mr Blair's experience is respected, but personally he is neither liked nor trusted. And then there is the war.

Contrary to the view prevailing in Downing Street, the Iraq war is not a small, sectional concern peculiar to Islington intellectuals and their like. Women were always more hostile to the use of force in Iraq than men - but they do not appear to have softened their dissent with time. Nor is it now just the war and its unnecessary casualties that angers them, but the whole complex of decisions and presentational mechanisms that has accompanied it. The women questioning Mr Blair yesterday disliked the decision to go to war, but they also disliked the way Mr Blair appeared to change his reasons after the fact, and the way they felt they had been manipulated by the propagandists, with the Prime Minister in the lead.

It may be that women have less tolerance of jargon and euphemisms than men. They have less time to waste on such word-games and more first-hand experience of the gap between politicians' words and deeds. It is they, more often than the men, who attend school parents' evenings, take their children to the doctor, visit elderly parents in hospital. It may be this government's bad luck that it raised expectations in these areas of social policy so high and is now perceived to have fallen so short. Targets attained count for little when personal experience says something different.

This sharp decline in the women's vote, however, need not lose Labour the election, nor is it necessarily irretrievable. It need not be fatal because, for all Mr Blair's flaws, he is still more popular among women than either of the other two party leaders. If they want to catch the votes Mr Blair is losing, they will have to try harder. Mr Howard, for one, spent the weekend showing how not to do it. British politics may have become more presidential, but parading the family - complete with children and grandchildren - is best left for victory night. For a Conservative leader to suggest, as he does in a magazine interview today, that the abortion law needs tightening, will probably not broaden the Tories' appeal to women either.

The reason why the women's vote may not be irretrievable could boil down to Gordon Brown. Less discredited by Iraq than Mr Blair, the Chancellor gives Labour a second chance to court the women's vote through the image of a solid and trusty provider. Budget day is expected to mark the return of Mr Brown to the frontline of the political fray. We have no doubt that this will be a budget to win over women voters, as well as to win an election.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A customer holds his new iPhone  

How magazine websites for young women are filling a gap in the market

Ian Burrell
Roy Hodgson and Gordon Strachan on the touchline  

We must remember who “we” are, especially when home nations clash in sport

Will Gore
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin