The Prime Minister greets his "woman problem". Photo: Getty
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Does David Cameron have a "woman problem"?

Yvette Cooper makes great play of David Cameron's "woman problem", but it's Labour's "man problem" she should be worried about.

Yvette Cooper – increasingly regarded as the frontrunner for the Labour leadership – has a neat applause line about David Cameron having a “woman problem”. 

It’s smart politics: it references an achievement around which a majority of Labour activists can agree is a Good Thing (increasing the number of women MPs), reminds people of one of Cameron’s worst performances in the House of Commons (the “Calm down, dear” jibe at Angela Eagle), and strengthens her case to be elected Labour leader. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong.

In 1992, Labour were defeated by women, who preferred John Major to Neil Kinnock by a ten-point margin. If women had been the only voters, the Conservatives would have a majority of over 70, against a mere 20 on the night. In 1997, under Tony Blair, the party led by 12 points among women – still slightly smaller than the 14-point lead among men. In 2001 Labour performed equally well among women voters as it did with men.  

But by the time of Blair’s third election victory, the process had gone into reverse. Labour started to do disproportionately badly among male voters. If men had been the only voters, Labour and the Conservatives would have been level on votes, with 34 per cent apiece, although Labour would have remained comfortably ahead in terms of seats. Among women, however, the party had a six point lead, 38 per cent to 32 per cent.

Worse was to come:  in 2010, the Conservatives had a ten-point lead among men, enough to put them in office.  Women, however, backed Labour by 31 per cent to 36 per cent. In 2015, Labour again underperformed among men, achieving just 30 per cent of the vote.

Labour can’t even be said to be doing particularly well among all women; the over 55s opted for the Conservatives by an even bigger margin than their male peers (45 per cent to 27 per cent, against 40 per cent to 25 per cent among men).

That’s not to say that it would be a bad idea for Labour to pick a woman as leader. After all, the party’s forward strides among female voters occurred with a male leader – and the collapse with male voters in 2005, 2010, 2015 occured under three leaders who were all men. But it is to say that if Labour wraps itself in comforting slogans about Cameron’s “woman problem”, it will lose the 2020 election.

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

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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