The Sexual Politics of Cosmo; Cosmopolitan Editor Sam Baker Wants Young Women to Vote. but Is That Really What They Buy Her Magazine For?

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID ROWAN

HOLD the orgasms - Cosmo has discovered politics. After a 32-year crusade to locate G-spots and expose male flesh, the magazine's new obsession is the contenders for the keys to Number 10.

Next month, among spreads on breast-enhancement and threesomes, Cosmopolitan's readers are being offered interviews with those unlikeliest of pinups, the three main party leaders.

It is certainly an eccentric way to fight one of the most brutal circulation wars in recent women's-magazine history. But Sam Baker, Cosmo's editor since July, is on a mission that she says is about empowering a generation of politically disengaged women. With surveys suggesting that four in five women under 24 intend not to vote, her "High Heeled Votes" campaign, she says, is about "ensuring that women's issues are on the political agenda and that politicians take this group of voters seriously".

In the April edition, that means interviews with Blair, Howard and Kennedy; the following month, Cosmo will unveil election campaign ads designed according to reader research. Not that Baker, 37, has entirely dispensed with the magazine's more traditional fare - which in April's edition includes a naked Footballers' Wives actor and a guide to finding your "E" spot (that's Emotional Orgasm). It is just that she has also found room to quiz the three leaders about unlicensed minicabs, abortion, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

The four-page result is rather less earthmoving than Cosmo's more usual real-guy confessions. Michael Howard does take Baker home with him, but only to show how relaxed he can be over a morning coffee poured by his wife. Blair comes over as far more hard-to-get, never quite satisfying her with those corny lines of his. The cover line - "See grown men beg!" (for your vote, that is) - looks somewhat oversold.

"Whenever Labour or the Conservatives talk about women, it's always about maternity rights or pensions, which very much affect older women," Baker says in her office behind Carnaby Street. "But no one's talking about first-time buyers, student loans, Sexually Transmitted Infections or getting home safely at night. We felt we were pretty unique in making these middle-aged men talk about sexual health." It took far more negotiation to get Blair to commit than the others - and in the interviews, he is the most evasive on abortion.

The campaign all sounds very noble - but how, exactly, will this help Baker to sell magazines? "It's not that politics will sell magazines," she says. "I just wanted to get people to see the breadth of content that's in Cosmo. It does, contrary to popular opinion, have a campaigning history. I wanted to bring back Cosmo's news agenda, some of that 'oomph' that it used to have.

With this voting campaign, everyone's wanted to talk about it.

For the first time since I've been here, we've started having articles about Cosmo that haven't had the word 'sex' in."

THIS suggests that Baker's agenda is more about generating publicity. She admits that part of her goal is to use newspaper coverage to make potential readers rethink their prejudices about the magazine. "All of the relationships and sex and fashion content is incredibly important, but it's not the only thing that's in Cosmo," she says. "I wanted to get the women who had not considered it part of their repertoire just to pick it up. If they're reading their Sunday Times, and they see an article about us which talks about 'stressorexia', or why young women aren't voting, that might make them go into their newsagents."

So it's simply a PR strategy aimed at differentiation - a cheaper alternative, perhaps, to cover mounts? …