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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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.