What women want

As politicians are looking to capture the female vote, how are women being presented in the campaign so far?

65% of men say they will definitely vote in the General Election in May, compared with 55% of women. Women are more undecided than men too – over a third of women (35%) don’t know who they will vote for, 10% higher than men. Younger women (under 34) are the most uncertain on both counts. Politicians of all parties are looking to capture the female vote at this Election – so how are women being presented in the campaign so far?

1. Wheeling out the wives. Yes, it’s that time in the electoral cycle where if you are (un)fortunate enough to be both well turned out and married to a party political leader, you may be labelled the new ‘secret weapon’ to win over the “women’s vote”. Luckily David Cameron has clarified that Samantha Cameron “has also got other things she has to do” during the Election campaign, but thank goodness we now know that Ed Miliband’s wife and top environmental lawyer Justine Thornton “swapped unflattering black for colourful dresses and print” back in September, in readiness for the campaign trail.

2. Weaponising women. There are, of course, actual politicians who happen to be female – and parties looking to ensure they are not seen as too “male and pale” are focusing on how to fully “weaponise” their most talented women as electoral assets and deploy them to win both female and male votes. Lucy Powell, Harriet Harman and Rachel Reeves front up the Labour side, with Theresa May, Liz Truss and Nicky Morgan leading the charge for the Conservatives. Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett have also generated much greater profile and interest for their parties in this campaign as a result of rising support for smaller parties and the 7-way TV debate.

3. Oops, I did it again. Despite this, ill-advised comments from a minority still manage to find their way through. The best (or worst) recent example of undermining these efforts was Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford, implying in February that Rachel Reeves may not be able to handle the job because of her forthcoming maternity leave clashing with the Election. And remember last year’s anonymous reported briefings against Theresa May. Surely the first time that Diane and Theresa have agreed about anything?

Check out the Fawcett Society’s website for its Election asks along with its #viewsnotshoes campaign which monitors sexist reporting in the Election campaign.  

4. Opting for the easy ride. One of the stranger media episodes of the campaign so far was Nigel Farage’s appearance on Loose Women. In some way, this seems to have been an attempt to detoxify the UKIP brand with women but the whole set up here was just rather odd for a political interview, with Farage occupying the middle of the table, interviewed by all of the four presenters at once and barely touching on any substantive election issues. Sure, Loose Women is built on the premise that the full Paxo isn’t always necessary or desirable, especially when you’re eating your lunch. However, a few more pointed political questions wouldn’t have gone amiss. Having said that, Nadia Sawalha asking Farage about his ‘low self-esteem issues’ was a strange highlight.

5. What women want. Most importantly, let’s talk policy. There’s quite a lot of noise in this campaign already about how best to improve things specifically for women, and it will be interesting to see whose ideas get traction as the campaign continues. End Violence Against Women has a campaigning manifesto and the charity Gingerbread has worked with Netmums on campaigning for Single Parents. Even Cosmo has weighed in on all things Election. In the Radio 4 recent poll there were some key issues which came out as particularly important for women. Though the NHS, the cost of living (including buying or renting a home), immigration and the economy were concerns for all adults, the NHS was a bigger concern for women than for men, and the cost of caring for family and education both rated in their top concerns. Arguably, these should be issues that all voters – particularly all parents – should care about. That this is more front of mind for women is likely a reflection of the fact that women still do the lion’s share of the childcare. What it does give is a great indication of the kind of policy discussions we need to be having if political parties want to a) drive women to the polls and b) win their vote once they’ve got them there. Let’s hope this isn’t forgotten in the bluster of the campaign.