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
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Membership Manager

£35 - 38k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager ...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£350 p/d (Contract): Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP /...

Recruitment Genius: Electrician

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A qualified electrician require...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Social Researcher

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks