Labour is polling ahead of the Tories among women voters. Photo: Getty
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Could women voters be the key to Labour's electoral success?

Ed Miliband should seize the electoral potential of its advantage in the polls among women – particularly mothers.

David Cameron throughout his premiership has been accused of having a “women problem”. Numerous polls over the years have suggested that women don’t feel the Prime Minister is on their wavelength, and his past refusal to call himself a feminist and notorious failure to pose wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt have compounded his problem with appealing to 51 per cent of the population. His promotion of women in a major reshuffle last summer arrived too late in the parliament to seem like an authentic commitment.

And some polling out today shows that Ed Miliband has the opportunity to capitalise on Cameron’s lack of appeal to women voters.

A poll carried out by TNS on behalf of the BBC’s Woman’s Hour indicates that 59 per cent of women say they are concerned about the NHS – significantly more than men (50 per cent). Although only 12 per cent of women feel Miliband best understands what life is like for people (compared with 10 per cent for Cameron), the fact that the NHS is the greatest concern for women suggests more will vote Labour, which is putting the health service at the heart of its election campaign.

Cost of living and care costs were the two other highest priorities among women – again, topics on which Labour is stronger than the Conservatives.

Also, according to the same survey, Labour is rated as the party that best understands the issues faced by families, with one in five choosing them (20 per cent) on this concern. Significantly fewer (16 per cent) chose the Conservatives on this.

A separate poll for the Financial Times by Populus finds that Cameron will have a particular problem with mothers come the general election. When it comes to mothers, the Tories are 20 points behind Labour; 28 per cent of mothers with children under 18 plan to vote Conservative, compared with 48 per cent for Labour.

With 35 per cent of women yet to decide who to vote for in the general election, as found by the Woman’s Hour survey, Labour has everything to play for – and a lot to lose – in harnessing its advantage when it comes to appealing to female voters.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.