Dave's way with women panics Labour

WOMEN look out - politicians regard you as the swing voters who will deliver victory to either Labour or the Conservatives at the next General Election.

By Graham Dines

WOMEN look out - politicians regard you as the swing voters who will deliver victory to either Labour or the Conservatives at the next General Election.

Labour has hit the panic button as opinion polls show that women - who switched dramatically to back Tony Blair in 1997 - regard David Cameron as female-friendly and the best choice to be Prime Minister after the election.

An opinion poll last week by YouGov for The Daily Telegraph showed a 6% swing from Labour to the Tories among women.


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That figure rises to 9% in London with the East of England and the North East also particularly vulnerable to the Cameron charm offensive.

Such a shift in support is evidence that Cameron's deliberate emphasis on expecting constituency parties to choose more women candidates in winnable seats is paying off. And it underlies what this year's local elections indicated - in London, the Conservatives are in the ascendancy.

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It also shows that women, who are less likely to vote for a party regarded as extreme - Labour in 1983, the Tories in 2001 and 2005 - like the direction Mr Cameron is taking the Tories into the centre ground of politics.

Mr Cameron said this week: “There has been a considerable improvement in our representative profile - 32% of newly selected candidates are women (compared to 9% per cent of MPs), and 9% minority ethnic, compared to 1% of MPs). So we're on the right track - but we need to move faster.”

That is evident in the East of England, where there are no women Euro MPs representing any of the political parties and no women MPs in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, or Norfolk.

The only three Tory women MP in the region are Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest), Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire), and Anne Main (St Albans). That's better than the Lib Dems, who have none, while Labour can at least boast of four - Barbara Follett (Stevenage), Margaret Moran (Luton South), Angela Smith (Basildon), and Claire Ward (Watford).

Labour's response to the Tories' appeal among women has been to hammer home the message to working mothers that policies introduced since 1997 have empowered more women to take jobs and have lifted tens of thousands of children out of poverty. That might play well in Labour strongholds, but may not do the trick in areas where the Tories are doing well.

The opinion poll also boosted the Conservatives by indicating that if push came to shove, they would prefer after the next election a Tory government under David Cameron in power rather than a Labour government under Gordon Brown.

The indications are growing that the Chancellor would prove a disaster for Labour in London, East Anglia, the South East, the South West, the West Midlands and the East Midlands. But the Tories are still lagging way behind in the industrial belt of Yorkshire, the North West and North East, and are nowhere in Scotland although Wales could be more fertile territory.

The Tories have also recognised that if they are to mount a serious challenge for power, they have to neuter the Liberal Democrats. Again, polling suggests that this is paying off, with Sir Ming Campbell's party down from 23% at the last election to 18% now.

The Lib Dems still have the ability to pull off by-election spectaculars at the expense of both major parties, but one off contests are special. What the Tories have to prove is that in by-election in a marginal Labour held seat where the Lib Dems are traditionally nowhere, voters will turn to David Cameron.

The only other aspect of interest in the YouGov polling figures is the rise of other parties. While the UK Independence Party, the Greens, the English Democrats, and the British National Party probably could not win a General Election seat under the first-past-the post voting system, they could pull in enough votes to affect the outcome in several constituencies.

McCAIN TO HEAL TORY RIFT WITH REPUBLICANS

LEADING United States Republican Senator John McCain is expected to speak on the opening day of next month's Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth, signalling a thawing in relations between the two parties.

The Arizona Senator, seen as the front runner to become Republican candidate in the 2008 presidential contest, has accepted an invitation from Tory leader David Cameron following a visit to Washington earlier this year by Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague and Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

Mr Cameron's predecessor, Michael Howard, caused anger in the White House after he expressed concerns about the war in Iraq and led to the Tories and Republicans - natural allies on the centre-right of politics - being distanced from each other.

Senator McCain, who will be 72 at the election, is a former naval aviator who was elected to Congress in 1982, representing what was then the first congressional district of Arizona. In 1986, he was elected to the United States Senate to take the place of Barry Goldwater.

McCain, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, is currently chairman of the senate committee on Indian affairs and serves on the armed services committee.

With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice having ruled herself out of a presidential try, McCain's chief challengers for the Republican slot appear to be Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Virginia Senator George Allen - who crucially is in tune with the influential conservative Christians right - and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

As for the Democrats, while everyone expects New York Senator Hilary Clinton to try to become the first female president, she may be mired by memories of her husband's time in the White House. Importantly, she has so far raised $22million for the race, but many senior Democrats have concerns about her ability to win a general election.

And a poll in her supposedly New York stronghold show she would lose to both McCain and Giuliani if either were the Republican nominees.

Other names in the Democratic frame are North Carolina Senator John Edwards, former Vice President Al Gore, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

It's Warner - who won Republican voting Virginia for the Democrats - not Clinton, who would cause the Republicans most problems.

John Gizzi, political editor for the conservative Human Events magazine, told the Fox News web site: “Warner's got a business background and a very strong marriage. And he can say he's a true moderate.”

BRING BACK SIR WINSTON'S FUNERAL CARRIAGE

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to save the railway van which carried Sir Winston Churchill to his final resting place. The Southern Railway parcels and luggage van was repainted in Pullman colours to form part of the funeral train of the wartime Prime Minister on January 30, 1965.

It was exported to California later in 1965 to form part of a mock English railway station on a golf course at a resort hotel in Los Angeles but has now been declared surplus to requirements by its current owners, the Los Angeles City of Industry.

Los Angeles Mayor David Perez has offered it “as a gift to the British people” but campaigners need to raise £40,000 to transport the van to its new home on the preserved steam railway based at Swanage in Dorset and to restore it back to running order. If the Churchill Project appeal fails, Southern Region van number S2464S will be broken up.

The special funeral train was hauled by a Southern steam locomotive that bore his name and is now preserved as part of the national collection at the National Railway Museum in York.

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