The Tories' problem with women keeps getting worse

Conservative Party polling finds that women overwhelmingly believe the economy is going in the wrong

The coalition's trouble with women has been under the spotlight in recent weeks. Today, internal polling by the Conservative Party, published by the Times (£), confirms that women are turning away from the Tories in droves.

It found a drastic gender gap in attitudes, with 25 per cent more women than men believing that the economy is going in the wrong direction, and 10 per cent more believing that cuts are unfair. Overall favourability towards the government was 12 per cent lower among women, while women were twice as likely to think that their children will have a worse life than their generation did.

This is hardly a new trend, but it does confirm an existing problem. A recent New Statesman leader outlines the polling evidence:

The Tories' disproportionately low support among women prevented them from winning a majority at the last general election and could deny them one at the next. Among men, the party led Labour by 10 points at the last election but among women it led by just 4. The situation has since grown worse. An Ipsos MORI poll published on 14 September found that support for the Conservatives among women had slumped to 29 per cent, compared to 38 per cent among men. Worse for the Tories, a New Statesman/ICD poll published on 4 October found that just 35 per cent of women "would consider" voting for the Conservatives at the next election and that 65 per cent would not.

While one should be wary of broad generalisations about a large group such as "women voters", this is a worry for the Tories. The support is particularly dropping away among C2 women, typically skilled manual workers. A recent post by Gavin Kelly suggested some of the reasons this might be: the way that public sector job cuts are disproportionately affecting women, the rise in retirement age, and cuts to childcare.

Advisers have told the Prime Minister that he will struggle to win a majority in 2015 if something is not done. In an attempt to tackle this growing problem, David Cameron is to focus on issues seen to appeal to women, such as the sexualisation of children, and boosting adoptions. However, Labour's Yvette Cooper has a strong attack line when she says: "They think they have a presentation problem but actually it is a policy problem."

This latest poll shows that women are not simply concerned about "female" issues like childcare, but are fundamentally concerned by the deficit reduction programme and the direction in which the economy is going. It will take more than Cameron presenting himself as "caring" to tackle this perception.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.