Kings & Queens in the House of Cards; ANALYSIS with Gordon Brown Set to Take over the Premiership, the Real Race Is for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party. Chris Game Looks at One of the Candidates, Harriet Harman, and the Gender Factor

The Birmingham Post (England), June 19, 2007 | Go to article overview

Kings & Queens in the House of Cards; ANALYSIS with Gordon Brown Set to Take over the Premiership, the Real Race Is for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party. Chris Game Looks at One of the Candidates, Harriet Harman, and the Gender Factor


Byline: Chris Game

In 1979 I moved from a Berkshire flat overlooking the Thames to a pre-regeneration Birmingham for a post with no clear job description. Most people, in both places, thought I was mad. But 20 years later I was still enjoying the job, which means I can understand something of the appeal of the Labour deputy leadership to the no fewer than six competing candidates.

The less defined a post, the greater the scope for its holder.

However, for the 99.5 per cent of us who aren't party members, the contest is now essentially a sideshow, with perhaps only Harriet Harman's candidacy offering us much direct interest. For she is the one whose whole campaign centres on her claim to be the most effective vote winner.

The next General Election, in probably 2009/10, is likely to be extremely close between the major parties. So, if a Brown/Harman pairing were significantly more likely to attract crucial swing voters than, say, a Brown/Alan Johnson or Brown/Hazel Blears ticket, it could quite easily determine the party's future in government.

At present, that's precisely what the opinion polls suggest. Half the respondents in a recent YouGov poll thought no available pairing would make them any more inclined towards Labour. The other half, though, gave Brown/Harman a clear lead over all the others.

Break down the figures and they make Harman's case more decisively still. Taking women voters only, one in six (17 per cent) say a Brown/Harman leadership could make them more likely to vote Labour.

By comparison, Brown/Hilary Benn might attract an additional 10 per cent of women voters, and no other pairing comes near to double figures.

Women swing voters - those saying there's a reasonable chance that they'll change their vote from last time - are even more enthusiastic Harrieteers. Nearly a quarter (22 per cent) would be more inclined to vote for a party led by Brown/Harman, with no other pairing exceeding 12 per cent.

All of which raises the fascinating question of whether, even in these days of supposedly greater equality, there are still gender differences in political attitudes and behaviour.

Historically, there certainly were. Women were less likely than men to vote at all, but more likely to vote Conservative. Indeed, if women hadn't won the vote, we would have had almost continuous Labour government since 1945.

Both turnout and party gender gaps have largely disappeared in recent years, although the latter, eliminated in the last of Margaret Thatcher's election victories in 1987, reappeared in 1992, with women's votes being statistically decisive in John Major's unexpected triumph.

In 2005 the reverse happened. Labour spent much of its campaign cultivating the votes of what it rather irritatingly called 'hard-working families', especially families with children. It seemed effective, though, because there was what political scientists call a 'gender realignment' - which sadly is less exciting than it sounds.

According to MORI's polling, women broke with tradition and split their votes 38 to 32 per cent in favour of Labour. Among 18-34 year old women the pro-Labour split was 43 to 33 per cent. If only women had voted, Labour's 66 overall majority would have been about 90; with only men voting, barely 20.

Since then, however, we've had the arrival of David Cameron. In 2005 BC, before Dave emerged as the Conservative leadership front-runner, the party's opinion poll leads over Labour were almost identical among both men and women.

Ever since, according to YouGov - the polling company using the largest samples and so arguably the most reliable - Conservative leads have been higher amongst women voters in every monthly poll but one. …

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Kings & Queens in the House of Cards; ANALYSIS with Gordon Brown Set to Take over the Premiership, the Real Race Is for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party. Chris Game Looks at One of the Candidates, Harriet Harman, and the Gender Factor
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