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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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