''Politicians are so dreadfully afraid that the women's vote would not be given en masse in support of their own party . . . They would be an unknown quantity in every constituency, and they are therefore dreaded by the party wirepullers."
That was Millicent Fawcett, writing in 1913, in the first women's issue of the New Statesman - a special supplement on "The Awakening of Women", edited by Beatrice Webb. Almost a century later, wirepullers of all parties are still dreading what women are about to do with their vote. Despite weeks of debate in the media, women are the great unknown quantity of the election. So, in this special issue, we've tried to find out why the "women's vote" is so elusive.
The survey we have done with Eve magazine (see page 18) gives a strong hint. "Getting women to tick your box doesn't necessarily mean concentrating on what you think of as 'female issues'," writes Sara Cremer, editor of Eve. In the survey, women named the NHS, education, tax, Europe, terrorism, immigration and pensions among their main concerns. Iraq keeps coming back everywhere: from the girls of Glasgow to the Botox clients of Covent Garden. Very many women strongly opposed the war and are still furious that their views were dismissed by the government.
Is there any such thing as the women's vote anyway? To many women, it is outdated and patronising to lump all female voters together for the purposes of elections. But there are some common threads. We've found that women are - really are - sick of political posturing. Above all, our reports show that women are politically sophisticated and demand to be taken seriously: they will not be fobbed off with meagre improvements trumpeted as huge advances, whether on flexible working, or pensions, or tax. Women will not shut up and be grateful. Wirepullers, take note.