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Women's Vote Will Likely Decide British Elections

5 years ago
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Many things are still uncertain as we move toward the British general elections later this spring. But here's one thing everyone agrees on: This election will be decided by women.

Signs of women's strategic importance are everywhere you look. Both candidates for prime minister have assiduously courted the "Internet vote" by reaching out to the well-educated, middle-class stay-at-home moms who populate popular sites like Mumsnet. (There's even a new tag to identify these voters -- "cybermums" -- which bears resemblance to America's "soccer moms" of campaigns past.)

Last week, in an unprecedented move, the BBC's premiere political debate program, "Question Time," had an all-female audience to highlight women's concerns going into the election. And the grassroots Fawcett Society, the U.K.'s leading nonprofit for promoting equality between women and men, is spearheading an initiative titled "What About Women?" The campaign challenges all major political parties to outline their proposals as they affect women across a host of policy areas, including the economy, education and crime.

So far, at least, things seem to be favoring the opposition Conservative Party where women's votes are concerned. Although women in the U.K. historically tend to vote Conservative, Tony Blair was able to woo them to Labour's side in 1997. But the latest YouGov polls show women favoring the Tories, 37 percent to 29 percent, with men split evenly between the parties.

A lot of this has to do with the exceedingly charming and media-friendly David Cameron, who has -- against the wishes of some in his party -- promised to impose all-women shortlists in local elections to boost female candidates. Cameron is also helped by his beautiful and skilled PR-executive wife, Samantha, a poster-girl for the working mom (lest anyone accuse the Tories of being old-school where women are concerned).

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is, both by nature and by aspect, far more telegenically challenged than Cameron. (He famously fumbled a question about his favorite biscuit (cookie) on a Mumsnet chat.) Still, Brown is doing his best to woo women back to Labour. He recently argued that proposed Tory tax cuts would harm "middle-class mainstream mums." (He's referring to shadow Finance Minister George Osborne's pledge to make some of the government's current tax breaks for families means-based.) On Monday, Brown went so far as to promise women a legal right to home births.

It's still too soon to tell how all of this posturing for the women's vote will play out. (The election must be held by the first week of June.)

In the meantime, the opposition Liberal Democrats Party has an entirely novel strategy for winning over the hearts and minds of female voters. Last week, the party announced that one Anna Arrowsmith will stand for election as a member of Parliament. Ms. Arrowsmith made her name in Britain by making highly popular pornographic films -- for women. Now she'd like to fight against the sexualization of children and wants to improve the visibility in women in government. In her own words: "Someone had to do it . . . and I've got a lot of -- for want of a better word -- balls."

You go, girl!

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