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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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.