Monday, November 13, 2006


Why are British Women Voters so Rightwing?

My picture shows women voting for the first time in New York in 1917. It took the 19th amendment in 1920 to deliver the vote nationwide; on our side of the Atlantic it took another eight years. [Wikipedia tells me, however, that the British owned Pitcairn Islands granted female suffrage as long ago as 1838]. According to Polly Toynbee the beneficiaries of that 1928 measure do not currently appear to include the Labour Party. See also similar article here.

For this reason she urges the election of a woman deputy leader to show women where their best interests lie. She points out that Conservatives have invariably reaped the female vote harvest- 'the right only ever won on the women's vote'. 1997 was the first time female votes helped Labour to win but in 2005 the female vote was equally split between Labour and Conservative. By this summer a Tory lead of 8 points had opened up. For some reason British women, unlike their counterparts in France, Germany and Italy, lean to the right and not the left.

Toynbee reflects on the things done by 'the most female friendly governement yet': maternity leave imnprovements and nurseries plus the fact that while in 1997 there were only child-care places for one in eight, today it's one in three. She also mentions Sure Start; the fact that it has been women who have benefitted most from the minimum wage. Then she lists tax credits, improvements in the NHS, more schools, and less crime. But still women have refused to view Labour as their government. Why? Polly thinks it's because of the Iraq war: 'women hate war and they hate it more than men do'. Poll evidence seems to back her up; she could be right if the US mid-terms are any indication.

She concludes by waving the flag for Harriet Harman, who is the only senior Labour figure who 'campaigns loudly and unashamedly on women's issues'. Polly points out that when Harman entered the House there were only 10 Labour MPs and now there are 97 yet, as Harman herself admits, Labour has somehow made them 'invisible'. She suggests Harriet would make a difference. My take on this is a bit cynical. Voters are very instrumental and have short memories; Labour gave them the economic stability they wanted but now they take it for granted and, according to polls, do not even allow Gordon any credit for achieving it. I suspect voters, even women voters, have accepted all that Labour has given them but that it now fails to register hardly at all. Indeed, I suspect that it weighs light in the balance compared with the winning, smiling, vacuously optimistic blandishments of the Tory toff. After all, it worked for Blair, so why not the same for Cameron?

Your article answers your question without you realising it. Women are not some sort of special case, to be impressed by things being done for their benefit. How patronising. "Yeh let's chuck them the (meaningless) deputy leadership, that'll win them round". Dear oh dear. Far be it from me to pretend to understand a woman's mind, but I suspect they are impressed by being treated as capable equals, rather than being patronised by the likes of female only shortlists. Alas Dave is in danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this score...
Michael, I tend to agree with you on this(remarkably perhaps)
I also agree with Michael, quite strongly. Porillo and Abbott on This Week were insisting on the existence of a "women's vote". I can't see it myself. NHS, schools and crime? Well, there's nothing particularly female about supporting - or not supporting - the NHS; same with state schools; same with police numbers.

Michael's condescension point is pertinent. Do we ever hear psephologists talking about the "men's vote"?
Isn't it the case that young women (18-24) are much more likely to vote Labour? And what happens if gender is correlated with trade union membership (a good indicator of Labour voting) or housing tenure? I'm not sure, when you look at it, there is a single group called "women" with common interests at all: there are lots of different women, in different situations. What does a young woman on a council housing estate have in common with Nigella Lawson?
Correlation, but not causation... Similar correlations will apply to men too (men tended to vote Republican in the mid-terms), but, as I said before, nobody speaks of the "men's vote".
Statistical correlation is some sort of evidence for "probabilistic causation"; i.e. the sort of things that permits us to say "Owner-occupiers are more likely to vote Conservative than are council tenants", meaning that housing tenure has a causal affect upon voting behaviour. Of course, this could be a simple correlation and there could be no causal relationship (but that is unlikely in this case, I think).

The voting behaviour of women varies dramatically with age and social class. In particular, young women (18-24)are much more likely to vote Labour than older women; and this is especially so of young working-class women (C2DE's). ABC1 older (over 55) women are much more likely to vote Conservative. The same is true of ABC1 men over 55. Skipper could just as easily have asked: Why are young working-class women less reactionary than older men?
Fair points P'holic but we must remember that young women are far less likely to vote than older ones and the same goes for men too.
Well he could Portaholic, if he was trying to score a cheap political point with pejorative language, rather than have a serious discussion(!). Rather like saying...Young people crash their cars more than older people, and young people are more likely to vote Labour. Therefore voting Labour is more likely to make you crash your car. Or is that just a load of bollocks? Point made Portaholic, though I suspect it has passed through your other ear already.
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