It’s Friday and Polly Pot is in full flow – and remember the Graun have coughed up around £1,400 for what follows.
Labour needs a woman at the top to win female votes back from Cameron
It is amazing that Labour has lost the backing of those who have gained most. But there is a way to reclaim their support
The back story here is a Populous opnion poll in the Times that shows Labour and the Tories running neck and neck amongst men but has the Tories six points ahead amongst women voters, which Times columnist, Mary Ann Sieghart, ascribes to Cameron’s ‘personal appeal’ by means of a welter of sweeping generalisations, beginning with…
If women hadn’t had the vote, Labour would have won every general election since the Second World War.
This could well be true, although Sieghart offers no evidence to support of this claim, in which case the reasonable conclusion to draw is that women are the main swing voters in general elections, while men are somewhat more tribal in their voting habits.
As facts go, that moderately interesting if you’re a committed psephologist or media pundit, but otherwise hardly the stuff of headline news, not that that dissuades Sieghary from waxing lyrical on the subject of Cameron’s charms for long enough to fill up most of her column (and justify her paycheck) nor can one quite escape the feeling that the whole piece would make rather more sense if one replaced each occurance of the word ‘women’ with the words ‘Mary Ann Sieghart.
It’s a classic puff-piece enlivened on by the the fact that Sieghart manages to an argument that is both patronising and gloriously antediluvian at the same time in following up her reference to the apparent effects of women’s suffrage since 1945 with comments like this:
One look at page 4 of The Times on Tuesday gave a powerful clue to Cameron’s attractiveness to women. I don’t mean that he is good-looking. He isn’t particularly. But women love to see a fully-involved dad. Our photograph showed the Tory leader pushing his disabled son in a buggy with one hand, while clasping the ankle of the small daughter who is sitting on his shoulders with the other. Behind him, his wife Samantha steers a pushchair with their baby inside.
His wife adds to his political appeal. She is a working mother with her own career. But she isn’t scarily glamorous. The two epitomise modern family life: sharing the breadwinning, sharing the domestic tasks, supporting each other. That one of their children is severely disabled prevents their world from being too impossibly perfect.
By now any feminist readers will be beating thier keyboards with frustation – one of the most prominent (and hopelessly sexist) Victorian arguments against women’s suffrage was that women lacked the ‘head’ for politics and were congenitally incapable of approaching the subject seriously, which is nonsense, of course, and yet precisely the image that Sieghart conveys.
But enough of Mary Ann’s personal predilictions, lets get back to Polly Pot, if only to going down the road of speculating as to whether they might share parallel tastes in the use of organic vegetables.
The first thing of note is that, unless you’re psephologically inclined, you can safely skip most the first half of her piece, which largely explores the whole business of female voting patterns in rather more detail that Sieghart managed before arriving at the conclusion that;
Brown will have to pay rapt attention to what women think and what women want: he can’t win without reclaiming them.
And so, it seems, democracy recedes even further than usual – its bad enough that our current electoral system pretty much ensures that that the government of the day is determined by the outcome of no more than 100-150 key marginal (and predominantly middle class) constituencies, but now it would also appear that only 50% or so of the electorate in those seats actually matter – at this rate we’ll one day arrive at the point where the Beeb’s election coverage will consist of parking David Dimbleby and Peter Snow on the doorstep of Mrs Phiilomena Snotgobbler-Smith (with a hyphen) of 73, The Avenues, East Cheam, until she emerges, groundhog-style, to announce who she’ll be voting for, at which point they’ll be able to safely call the outcome of the election.
But that’s all by the by for the time being, as Polly moves on to, after a brief foray into the realms of ‘look what Labour’s done for you, you ungrateful bints’ to ask the $64,000 question.
What’s gone wrong?
Oh, do tell, Polly. Please do tell…
Women hate war, and they hate it more than men do: that held good in voting patterns in the US elections, as it does in opinion polls across Europe.
I’ve no doubt it does and, as such, its an observation that would be entirely germain in the context of a referendum on the Iraq War, but, unfortunately, there is rather more to general elections that simply Iraq. Still, Polly continues…
Deborah Mattinson of Opinion Leader Research runs focus groups with women:
‘Opinion Leader Research’? ‘Runs focus groups’?
Bullshit Alert! Bullshit Alert! You are about to enter a bullshit zone. Please be careful where you tread…
“They are more upset about Iraq,” she finds, yet she sees the varnish start to peel off Cameron: “Women’s bullshit radar is more finely tuned that men’s.”
But hang on, Polly. While you were hacking through the stats did you not point out that:
David Cameron owes his lead in the polls entirely to women’s votes.
And more importantly…
British women are odd: traditionally, in France, Germany and Italy women lean to the left and men lean rightwards; but in Britain the right only ever won on the women’s vote. The suffragettes’ achievement made the last century the Conservative century; are women about to do it again?
And also don’t you also mention…
…Tony Blair, the man who was the magician of women’s votes
Is there not a fairly obvious inference to be drawn from the assertion that in Britain women tend to be incline to vote Tory and the depiction of Tony Blair as the ‘magician of women’s votes’?
But her focus groups say the government is “stale” and has “run out of steam”. John Reid’s announcement yesterday of yet more criminal-justice legislation hardly feels like refreshment: Labour’s 59 obsessive criminal-justice bills have often been repealed before they have been enacted. Blair and Reid hammer out security, security, security in a bid to outflank the Tories on the right, trying to brand Cameron “soft on crime”. Not only is that daft politics and triangulation gone mad; it also doesn’t work. Pollsters do find voters frightened and angry about crime, terror and immigration. But a necessary defensive strategy can’t become Labour’s defining purpose.
A ‘defensive strategy can’t become Labour’s defining purpose’ – what’s all this ‘become’ business, Polly. Have you been in coma for the last five years?
Oblivious to reality, as ever, Polly continues on…
There is a curious paradox here: psychological experiments, now pondered by the Downing Street strategy unit, find that people questioned about their political views are influenced rightwards by dark thoughts: a frightening poster on the wall makes people’s attitudes move to the right.
Are you seriously suggesting that Blair has only just figured out the connection between running a continous stream of scare stories and right-wing politics? I had thought we’d safely established that one years ago – in fact, has this not the raison d’etre of the Daily Mail for years?
And does anyone else feel a bit queasy at the idea of politicians pondering psychological experiments while making policy? Does that not sound, well, all a bit totalitarian?
All this leads Polly to the startling conclusion that…
…the more Blair goes on about security, war and crime, the more he may drive people into the arms of the Conservatives.
Talk about stating the bleeding obvious, but neve fear, Polly has the answer…
Winning back women has to be the project from now on. How can Labour do that? It could start by copying the Democrats in America in promoting more women up front.
It now needs a woman right at the top who never lets up. Harriet Harman is the only candidate for the deputy leadership who campaigns loudly and unashamedly on women’s issues, always a jump ahead on what needs to be done next.
What Labour needs is a high-profile woman campaigner who never lets go, to make sure the policy reviews push these things high up the agenda. If women voters just don’t get the message about what Labour does for women, that’s because the wrong messengers at the top fail to convince. Mothers listen to mothers: to win, Labour needs its women up front.
Aside from noting the obvious, i.e. that all the guff on women’s voting habits was little more than a scene-setting for a blatant shill for votes in support of Harriet Harman’s plan to run for the Labour Deputy leadership, what’s most apparent is that Polly can offer not a single shred of evidence to back up her contention that the antidote to women’s conservative voting tendancies in Britain is putting up women candidates.
Remember, the evidence on female voting patterns shows that British women exhibit a marked tendency to lean to the right and vote for conservative (small ‘c’) candidates, whether these are actual Tories or those in New Labour, like Blair, who display markedly conservative attitudes.
What she doesn’t supply is any evidence to show either that women have a marked tendancy to vote for other women or that such a tendancy in any way overrides other considerations.
The contention that women are, in general terms, conservative in the voting habits, in the sense of being influence in the decisions by issues, values and attitudes that are often ‘traditionally’ associated with conservative politics, what one might call, for want of a better term, ‘domestic’ issue, can be backed up with fairly substantive evidence, although one needs to look at more than simply how women voted in past general elections to be certain that such a connection is valid – one nees also to look at party manifestos, campaign literature and at the prevailing social attutides and issues of the time to identify which policies might have most influence such choices.
By constrast, the suggestion that women will simply vote for other women out of either a sense of feminine solidarity or in the belief that, as a woman, a particular candidate may be more undertsanding of, and sympathetic towards, their concerns, and therefore better able to represent their interest, is backed up by nothing more than evidence from the US that women hate war and the fact that, as a consequence of the Democrats success in the US mid-term elections, the next Speaker of the House of Representatives will be a woman (Nancy Pelosi) and that Hilary Clinton is ‘riding high’, in electoral terms, in what is a traditional Democrat area, without ever providing evidence to show that any of these things may be connected.
Not only that, but having described British women as ‘odd’ for not following their French, German and Italian counterparts in exhibiting a tradition of ‘leaning’ to the left, she leave the matter of whether, in political terms, women in the US traditionally tend to ‘dress’ to the left or the right hanging in mid-air, as much to suggest that either she doesn’t know (and hasn’t bothered to find out) or that if one looks at the voting habits of the American female, one might find that British women are equally ‘odd’ by comparison.
In all, its difficult to know quite which view of women is the more patronising, Mary Ann Sieghart’s paean to Victoriana or Polly’s 1970s sister act