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Keeping the Trust of ‘Worcester Women’

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The following article was written for the May edition of Progress, for details visit: http://www.progressives.org.uk/index.asp


1997 was the first General Election at which Labour was women’s 1st choice party - and the elections of 2001 and 2005 also saw Labour in top position. But the Tories are now beginning to challenge for the trust of Britain’s women voters.


The term ‘Worcester Woman’ was coined to cover traditional female Tory voters from so-called middle England who were won over by Tony Blair's New Labour in the 1990s. Of course, the women’s vote consists of a lot more than just ‘Worcester Woman’, but let’s stick with her for the moment. ‘Worcester Woman’ voted for us because we looked like her and her family, and because she thought we understood her life and had some of the answers to her problems.


But time moves on.

We’ve been in Government for 10 years, our faces have been seen, and we might be thought of as stale, wrapped up in the Westminster/London bubble. Where we defend seats with a sitting MP, the Tory candidate may well be significantly younger - just consider the numbers of our MPs standing again who are in their late 60s and 70s.


Let’s look at the Conservatives - Cameron may be rich and posh but he does look like ‘Worcester Woman’ and her family; married with a wife who works, and young children. The Tories will have a number of women/Black and Minority Ethnic candidates at the next General Election, with many of their new male candidates being in their late 30s/early 40s. We might well look out of touch with many in the population.


We can trumpet our record - and we should. Labour has significantly increased the rights of women, and introduced new measures to support family life. To mention just a few:

  • paid maternity leave has increased from 14 to 39 weeks,
  • 2 weeks paid paternity leave,
  • the National Minimum Wage benefiting around one million women, and
  • the introduction of the right to request flexible working for childcare and care of disabled adults.

All positive, and the Tories voted against most of these. But people don't vote for what you've done but what you are going to do.


Worcester Women’ and the challenge

Today ‘Worcester Woman’ is financially better off, but the consumer society produces more and more things we never knew we wanted - flat screen TVs, I-pods, etc. This ongoing demand produces anxiety.


Of course, life is still a struggle for some - a struggle about money because of more 'wants'; a struggle about time because of shuttling kids around as they obviously cannot be allowed to walk anywhere. We also have a long hour’s work culture - you are only seen to be doing a good job if you are there a lot.


We are responding to these different challenges:

  • part time work is often low paid, we are tackling this through yearly National Minimum Wage increases,
  • our skills strategy is designed to raise the employability of women,
  • we emphasise the importance of a flexible working culture enabling women to better manage their time, including time for themselves, and
  • our 10 year strategy to increase childcare places.

For the future

We need policies that meet the differing needs of women - policies that they know only Labour will deliver. These include many from the Government’s response to the Women and Work Commission, with its stress on flexibility and part time work of a high quality. Other areas are child care, housing costs, education and skills.


We should not forget the importance of policies on crime, particularly where we are having some success like domestic violence and safer neighbourhoods. By concentrating on these - the issues that matter to ‘Worcester Woman’, to every woman - we can continue to be the party that she wants to vote for.


Meg Munn MP


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