Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron Must Offer Women More Than an Apology

Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron Must Offer Women More Than an Apology

Article excerpt

Shortly after he arrived in Downing Street as the chief political strategist, Andrew Cooper sent David Cameron a memo about the nation's hopes and fears.

Cooper's research showed that voters' greatest concern was that their children wouldn't have the opportunities they'd had. The mood of pessimism in the country, he concluded, could not be lifted until this question was addressed. This is why the conference this week has featured lots of of talk about children and 'inter-generational fairness'.

'Inter-generational fairness' sounds like the sort of meaningless phrase that only a politician would use, but both parties believe that the idea is vital to their prospects. Cameron is eager to show that his government will, as he put it in his conference speech, 'give our children the future we want them to have'. Ed Miliband, meanwhile, wants to attack the coalition for betraying the promise that every generation will do better than the last.

In Manchester this week, the Tories have been busy presenting deficit reduction as a matter of inter-generational fairness. In their speeches, both Cameron and Osborne stressed that the country couldn't leave this debt crisis to its children.

This language is intended, in large part, to tackle another problem, the party's falling ratings among women. Women have traditionally voted Tory in greater numbers than men, but they are being turned off the party by the cuts and the fall in living standards. Since July last year, the Tories have only lost 4 per cent of their male support. Among women, the number is 19 per cent. For a party that has never won a general election without a majority among female voters, that is a serious concern.

Cameron's circle have concluded they must persuade female voters that the cuts aren't ideological, nor an act of political machismo, but motivated by the need not to pass on crippling debts to the next generation. 'Women view themselves as the guarantors of the inter-generational contract, ' one Conservative minister says.

This view is widely shared at the top of the party. One strategist observes that, while men are impressed by talk of having a plan and sticking to it, women are not. 'We need to put the core argument about deficit reduction in terms that connect with women, ' he says.

This is not the only thing that the Tories are doing in an attempt to win back female support. In the next few weeks, they will announce a new policy under which families can write off some of the costs of childcare against tax. George Osborne, indeed, would like to go further: his ambition is to make childcare fully tax-deductible. A family that spent £20,000 a year on a nanny would be able to reduce the portion of their income subject to tax by that amount. …

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