Labour’s lead among women is slipping

A new study by the Fabian Society shows that the lead among women developed under Tony Blair is declining. Labour must focus on explaining what has been delivered for the amount spent, and focus on outcomes rather than inputs.

It is certainly the case, as Andy Grice mentions in the Independent today, that if only women had voted in 2005, Labour’s majority would have been 50 per cent greater. In the past, women have been more likely to vote Conservative, and the way women have voted overall has generally carried elections.

The gender gap of 12 per cent in 1974 (as defined by per cent Conservative lead over Labour among women, minus the Conservative lead over Labour among men) shrunk to -6 per cent in 2005. Labour was not just winning women’s votes as a one off, Labour was keeping women’s votes in a new relationship with women voters. The graph below shows Labour’s share of the vote among women and men in every election since 1974.

The polling on public services, conducted by YouGov for the Fabian Women’s Network, shows that women do not think Labour cares more about the quality of public services than the Tories.

So why is it that Labour has lost its lead? With women still often managing the household budget and four out of five of the population believing their finances will either stay the same or get worse in the next 12 months, there is a need to know where the money is going. Labour must focus on explaining what has been delivered for the amount spent, and challenge the assumption that Tory cuts will cut waste, not frontline services.

The message from the poll is also about the need to focus on outcomes rather than inputs. When asked about the most significant achievements for the NHS in the last 10 years, cutting the waiting times for operations and NHS Direct top the poll. More doctors and nurses, and more hospitals – inputs for which Labour has already women political credit – are highlighted by only a minority of women (15 per cent).

Our guest writer is Seema Malhotra, Director of the Fabian Women’s Network and a management consultant.

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