The coalition has finally wised up to the fact it's done nothing but annoy the fairer sex since the last election. It must be time for a patronizing strategy!
A leaked memo, circulated to government departments in the past few days, outlines possible actions and details the need to "assemble a first-rate team" to develop the most effective strategy possible, with the aim of bringing "good news for the next generation", recognising "what women do" and underlining that "women are key to British growth and success".
Sounds good, right? In the months leading up to the 2010 General Election, we heard over and over that women's votes were key and that the parties were going to do all they could to get us on board. Unfortunately, this seemed to play out as little more than a few soundbites on issues related to children - as if that's all we care about. The press responded in the same way, speaking to women voters about issues they were interested in, but making it all about nurseries and child benefit, keeping all other issues - the supposedly "big" issues, firmly as "men's issues".
Obviously childcare in the UK is a major issue, as the recent news stories about the fact it's the most expensive in Europe and extent to which it is forcing families into debt show. But plenty of women I know felt sidelined and patronized back in 2010 - and they feel much more strongly about it now, with the government cuts having disproportionately impacted women.
Cameron and co. seem to have finally worked this out - and it's no surprise, seeing as recent polls show that just 18% of 18-24 year-old women support the Tories, compared to 30% in 2010, with support for the Lib Dems having fallen from 34% to just 8%. And so they're concocting a plan to encourage us to put our faith in them again.
Says the memo: "We know from a range of polls that women are significantly more negative about the government than men". It goes on to say that there are many coalition policies that "are seen as having affected women, or their interests, disproportionately". It goes on to say that they've recognised they haven't really lived up to their promise to be the "most family-friendly government ever".
I have to say, it's nice that those in charge finally seem to be catching on, 18 months after women's groups and some politicians started saying that the cuts would hit women the hardest - because at the time there was precious little concern from Dave et al. And so a list of ideas - from banning advertising aimed at children to promoting women in business and reconsidering the decision not to criminalize forced marriage - has been drawn up.
There's just one little thing. Does the memo point to a genuine concern for the issues women care about and the damage the coalition is currently doing with its cuts and its dismissal of gender issues? Or is it simply a cynical ploy to turn around falling approval ratings and claw back the support that women have withdrawn over the last 18 months?
I'd say it's the latter. Why? For a start, Cameron needs to look at the way he and his colleagues are treating the women they work with, not just the electorate. There was Cameron's "calm down, dear" riposte to Angela Eagle back in April. Last week, we watched aghast as he quipped that Nadine Dorries was "frustrated" during Prime Minister's Question Time, then sat back as his cronies sniggered like 15-year-old boys. I have no love for the thoroughly unpleasant Dorries, but she didn't deserve to be treated like that.
Secondly, the fact the content of the memo clearly comes as a response to lack of support and the fact the coalition has gained a terrible reputation among most women speaks for itself. It's all about approval ratings, gaining power and preserving their reputation. It's a bit insulting, to be honest. So the women are revolting? Throw them a bone! Big up women in business and chuck in a few platitudes about women being "the future". That'll make 'em vote for us come the next polling day!
I'd like to see lots of the ideas in the memo become reality. It's just sad that they have to be dreamt up as a "tactic" by politicians who have realised just how angry women are with them, rather than politicians who thought this stuff up in the first place because they really do see women as "the future".
I didn't vote Conservative in 2010, and I'm pretty sure the plan to "up the game" on communications, using these ideas as a "hook" to draw us in, isn't going to change who I give my vote to next time. And I know I'm not the only one. Sadly for the coalition, I don't think the majority of women will be as easily placated as they think.