By Tim Montgomerie
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For some time now the Conservative Party has been worried about its standing with women voters. The picture is complicated, however, with class and economic circumstances more likely to be driving changes in women's voting habits. At the last election, for example, Gavin Kelly told New Statesman readers that "women aged 25-34 were more likely to vote for Labour than the Conservatives (11-point lead) whereas C2 female voters (of all ages) were dramatically more likely to back the Conservatives than Labour (by a remarkable 17 points)". It does seem that younger women are particularly sceptical about the Tories and, now, the Liberal Democrats. Here are two more extracts from Kelly's New Statesman piece:
- "The proportion of women aged 18-24 who support the Tories has declined from an already low 30 per cent at the General Election to just 18 per cent in 2011, while support among the same group for Liberal Democrats has collapsed from 34 per cent to just 8 per cent, meaning the coalition has succeeded in losing 38 per cent of its support among this group."
- "Overall levels of 'approval' for the Coalition have fallen to 25 per cent among women, 8 per cent lower than for men. Just 13 per cent of women feel that the Conservative Party is the party which is closest to women and best understands and reflects their views; plummeting to 7 per cent for the Lib Dems. When it comes to their personal ratings both Cameron and Clegg have a deficit of 6 per centamongst women compared to men."
Today's Guardian has seen a leaked copy of a Tory strategy paper which sets out policy ideas for winning back women voters.
One headline idea is to frontload child benefit so that mothers get more benefit when their children are young and childcare costs are greatest. Paul Goodman used these pages yesterday to identify childcare costs as one of the greatest barriers to economic growth.
Other ideas in the strategy paper, apparently written by Steve Hilton, include:
- "Working towards a "proper" ban on advertising to children.
- Introducing personal budgets for maternity services to allow women to shop around for services.
- Developing a strategy – "including possible cross-party work" – to ensure there are more female candidates for mayoral posts, elected police commissions and local enterprise partnerships.
- Changing plans for the new universal credit to give it to women automatically, instead of allowing the applicant to nominate a household member.
- Setting up a website to allow women to anonymously disclose and compare their salaries with others in their industry.
- Criminalising forced marriage because the "signals sent out by opting not to criminalise is a bad one".
- Holding a No 10 summit for women in business. "We haven't had one yet," it acknowledges."
It may be that some of these ideas will be discussed at the Tory Conference but they won't be discussed at a women-only session. Labour is holding a wimmin-only policy forum at its gathering in Liverpool although Ed Miliband is being allowed to speak.
The ideas in the Hilton paper look reasonable enough and will help on the margins but the principal reason for the decline in support from women is that they are more economically pessimistic than men. Creating jobs and putting a lid on inflation are the two most pro-women things the Coalition can do.