By Paul Goodman
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Margaret Thatcher understood the importance of the women's vote and this newspaper advert was produced under her leadership.
Tim Montgomerie writes in today's Times (£)
that David Cameron and Nick Clegg's joint appearance today will presage
"childcare initiatives, a single-tier state pension and help for
elderly people to afford long-term care. Women will be the biggest
beneficiaries of this programme — the 50 per cent of the population who
just happen to be least impressed with what the coalition has achieved
so far". So this is not a bad day in which to launch a week-long
ConservativeHome series on the Conservatives and women – with a stress
on winning votes.
Such a series will provoke at least as many questions as it
answers. Women are sometimes bracketed by the Left alongside ethnic
minorities or gay people. But does it really make sense to consider
half the population in this way? Indeed, how much sense does it make
to talk of "women's issues" at all? Are there "men's issues"? Should
childcare, for example – which Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister,
will consider on this site tomorrow – be considered a women's issue
alone, and if so why?
Amidst this speculation and debate, it is as well to keep hold of some facts. The Conservatives won 36% of womens' votes at the last election, compared to 38% of men's – an improvement on our 2005 performance, when we polled 32% compared to a male share of 34%.
This showing has faded since the election. Deficit reduction and
rising prices seem to be less well received by women than men. But
there is a while to go until the next election and all to play for.
After all, it has been claimed that if women didn't have the vote, Labour would have governed since 1945.
So no wonder Cameron is having a big female-friendly push – as he
sees it – this week on childcare, pensions, the NHS and long-term
care. There is a lot at stake for the man who told a Labour
front-bencher to "calm down, dear" and sacked two women Conservative
Cabinet Ministers last year – but who wants a third of Tory Ministers
to be women by 2015, and has more women in his inner circle (Gaby
Bertin, Kate Fall, Liz Sugg) than is sometimes appreciated. Charlotte
Vere opens the series today. Ruth Lea will also be writing – as will
Maria Miller, the Women's Minister.