Why don't women voters like the Tories?

Cameron's party trails Labour by 4 points among women voters.

Were Labour to ban men from voting, it would be re-elected with a majority of 68. That's according to today's Independent/ComRes poll, which puts support for Labour among women voters at 36 per cent, a 4-point lead over the Conservatives. By contrast, the Tories are favoured by 43 per cent of men, a 16-point lead over Labour.

Up until 1997, the Conservatives laid claim to being the natural party of women, with the gender gap working in their favour. If women had never been granted the vote the Tories would have been out of office for the entire postwar period. But that changed with the emergence of Tony Blair, and Labour has led among women voters in every election since.

Cameron has worked hard to win back female voters by promising to ring-fence health spending and to make education a priority (women are greater users of public services than men), but Labour has maintained the 4-point lead it enjoyed among female voters at the 2005 election.

One reason women drifted towards the centre left was that it was Labour that pushed for and introduced extended maternity leave, flexible working and programmes such as Sure Start. It may be that Cameron needs to adopt a greater focus on such issues.

In any case, as fear of a hung parliament grows in Tory circles, it is clear that it is female voters who will once again decide the outcome of the election.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.