Tony Blair is "slippery" and "irritating". Gordon Brown is "uncaring". Michael Howard is "inept". As part of the Eve/New Stateswoman poll of 1,400 readers, the panel was asked which words best applied to the party leaders; these were the unflattering views of our women, all in their thirties and forties. The panel answered ten multiple-choice questions on their voting intentions, previous voting habits and the issues that matter most to them, as well as answering an open question: "What worries you most?" They were asked which, if any, of the leaders could be described as sexy. Tony Blair scored no points at all. The others did little better, with Michael Howard scoring 1 per cent and the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, on 0.5 per cent. For Eve readers, "sexy" just wasn't a word that sprang to mind when they contemplated our leading politicians. Gordon Brown came top with 1.5 per cent, but overall, Eve readers declared themselves far too busy to be bothered whether politicians were attractive or not.
As all the parties are finding, courting the female vote is not easy. Simply taking a stance on, say, maternity rights won't automatically win the votes of all women. In our survey, maternity leave came last on a list of issues that worry women in their thirties and forties. It could be that they feel recent legislation gives them the rights they need, but, whatever the reason, only 11 per cent put maternity/parental leave at the top of their list. The panel was more worried about Iraq and terrorism. Top of the list came the National Health Service with 36 per cent and second was education (34 per cent), reflecting the current life stage of the respondents. They are worried about their children's futures and who is going to look after their family's health. In order of importance, the main issues for these women are: the NHS, education, tax, Europe, fear of terrorism, Iraq, immigration and maternity/parental leave.
Yet the issues themselves are not the only vote-catchers. Eve readers think that personality also plays a part. Blair might be mollified to know he was rated as more charismatic (26 per cent) and less bland than Brown, Howard or Kennedy, but he was also regarded as more slippery (50 per cent) and more irritating (31 per cent). Brown was overwhelmingly thought most capable (60 per cent), as opposed to 32 per cent for Kennedy, 29 per cent for Blair and 26 per cent for Howard. As for trust, the largest group felt they could rely on Brown (42 per cent), followed closely by Kennedy, above the Labour and Conservative leaders. The panel considered Howard the most inept of the four (24 per cent), Kennedy the most sympathetic (32 per cent). And despite his "sexiness", or perhaps because of it, Brown was seen as the most "uncaring" (19 per cent).
Asked whether revelations about a politician's private life would influence the way they intended to vote, 68 per cent of the women said personal peccadilloes have no effect at all and only 32 per cent felt that private shenanigans would influence them.
There was not a great deal of general optimism, however. More than half our respondents - 53 per cent - said their attitude towards politics was "concerned", while 25 per cent said the subject made them depressed. Only 14 per cent said they were "interested", let alone "hopeful" (7 per cent).
It would seem that one of the obvious solutions to such apathy is to get more female politicians involved at all levels right up to the top, but this strategy does not appear to be working effectively. Asked if they recognised the names of high-profile female politicians, and given a list comprising Patricia Hewitt, Tessa Jowell, Theresa May, Ruth Kelly, Margaret Beckett, Caroline Spelman, Hazel Blears and Sarah Teather, only 4 per cent recognised all eight. A further 6 per cent recognised just one name.
The state of the environment worried respondents more than any other single issue. Recycling and green energy were additional concerns, as were pollution and road congestion and, further afield, the government's attitude to third world debt. Other matters mentioned included crime (insufficient numbers of police; the increase in gun- and knife-related crime), social responsibility, racism, pensions, childcare costs and the nanny state.
Almost all the respondents (89 per cent) said they intend to vote in the election. Our survey predicts that Labour will lose out hugely to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens for the women's vote. Where 41 per cent of respondents voted Labour at the 2001 election, 24 per cent intend to do the same this time around. The Green Party's share of the vote will more than double to 8 per cent and the Lib Dems' will rise from 18 per cent to 26 per cent. Ironically, this splitting of the Labour vote puts the Conservatives in the lead even though their vote stays the same, at 32 per cent.
What worries you most? - Quotations from women on the Eve/New Stateswoman panel
'Parties putting forward repressive immigration policies. I am most likely to vote for a party which considers human rights issues'
'The nanny state. I feel as though I am treated like an idiot who is not capable of making her own choices, yet I am expected to fund other people's'
'Lack of support for working mothers and not enough push for the Equal Pay Act to be complied with'
'Society breakdown - educationally, in attitudes, acceptable behaviour, yob culture - all these things let us down as a nation'
'Lack of benefits for childless couples who are heavily taxed'
'Insufficient police on the streets - incredibly important'
'The environment is my top priority. Also the economy in general, particularly small businesses'
'The so-called pensions time bomb and how the government chooses to help and support those people who are going to lose out'
Editor of Eve magazine
'We have developed a unique relationship with our readership of 250,000 women in their thirties and forties. Two thousand of our readers have signed up for a monthly reader panel. Despite many of them working full-time and bringing up a family, every month they contribute ideas and opinions which really reflect their lives. A survey of these women should come as a wake-up call to all the parties, which are desperately seeking the female vote. Getting women to tick your box doesn't necessarily mean concentrating on what you think of as "female issues". Yes, they're important to us, but the limit of female concern is not maternity leave and whether our children are going to get broccoli for school dinner.
The NHS, education, Europe, crime, social responsibility, racism, pensions and the environment (reflected here in a swing to the Green Party) all feature large. Eve readers overwhelmingly felt either "concerned" or "depressed" about politics today, and have really gone off our current crop of political leaders in a big way. But they are still going to vote. And you know what that means for politicians? There are vast numbers of pissed-off women out there who are going to step out in early May to tell them exactly what they think of them.'