Friday, April 27, 2007

Why I hope Iain Dale is wrong

Before anyone accuses me of taking sides in the increasingly tedious "blog wars," let me make clear that what follows is not a personal attack on Iain Dale. But I read his piece about the importance of women voters in today's Daily Telegraph with an increasing sense of despair.

Dale may very well be right in his central thesis that women will decide the result of the next general election because David Cameron is more fanciable than Gordon Brown. I just hope to God he's 100pc wrong.

He writes: "Few non-political women judge a male politician purely by what he says. They judge him on the way he looks, sounds and appears on television. Put crudely, they ask themselves consciously, or unconsciously, if he has got the "fanciability" factor. In an unguarded moment, my sister Sheena told me that she and her friends sometimes play a game called "If you had to, would you?" Simon Cowell or Dale Winton was one unfortunate choice they recently gave themselves.

"This week, I asked her to put another option to her friends - Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or David Cameron. Out of an admittedly small sample of 40 Essex girls, 33 opted to lie back and think of England with David Cameron, three with Tony Blair and a resounding zero for Gordon Brown."

Well, all I can say about this is if, as Dale seems to suggest, we now live in a political culture where women cast their votes on the basis of whether they would like to sleep with the party leader, then I'm tempted to think that maybe it's about time I emigrated.

But on reflection, I think I will hang around at least until the next general election to see whether Dale is right, or whether in fact Gordon Brown can yet confound those cynics who assume that modern politics is about the triumph of style over substance.

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David Gladwin said...

Wouldn't Mr Dale's piece have been much more interesting if, instead of displaying a rather dismissive attitude to women, he had pondered the extent to which the relative alpha-male attractiveness of party leaders influences male voters?

Toque said...

Exactly. What about the gay vote?

Perhaps they fancy a bit of the gay Gordons rather than Cameron's Eton mess.

Or maybe Ming because he can take his teeth out.

Anonymous said...

Whilst Gordo can't help his physical appearance,he has made an effort with his teeth and now needs to invest in some shampoo for greasy hair.

However,the Youtube clip of Gordo picking his nose and alternating between eating the contents and wiping it on the back of his tie,will no doubt be a major turnoff for female voters.

Anonymous said...

No contest, McDonnell it is then.

Richard Bailey said...

Women make judgements differently to men. Their's are more emotional, instinctive and intuitive.

Women do not mind austerity or sterness and their judgement of Brown has nothing to do with sex appeal.

Ask any women what she wants from a man and she will say dependability, honesty, strength and intelligence.

For the last 10 years GB has been a sullen, deceitful coward, never to be found when things have gone wrong and indecisive and evasive about anything important.

That is why women will not vote for him, not because they find him "physically repulsive" (quoted from Mrs Lara Bailey everytime she sees him on TV!!).

Captain Spaulding said...

Don't worry Paul, it's complete bollocks. Amazing that people can write such male chauvinist nonsense in the 21st century, but it proves they are just the same old Tories. In implying that women care more about style, men more about substance, this is in a direct line with the thinking that women should never have had the vote in the first place, or once they did, that the "flappers" should never have had the vote. Iain's "survey" of naice Essex gels is absolutely laughable - it sounds about as representative as (from a Labour point of view) a survey based on the views of boring farts who turn up at GC meetings.

The gloomy Brown/Cameron comparisons are overblown because Brown will have a voter-friendly deputy - Alan Johnson perhaps - and Labour have plenty of intelligent and articulate women on their senior team (compared with the sweet but useless Theresa Villiers for example). When it comes to the substance, if you poll women - even now when the polls generally are down - you get good results for Labour on child benefit, tax credits etc. Labour has done far more for women than the Tories have ever dreamt of and the child-friendly policies also directly appeal to women who are usually the main carers.

Nevertheless the article cheers me because the Tories will always make the mistake of taking their activists seriously and they now seem to - quite mistakenly - regards blogs as being representative of mainstream Tory opinion.

The article suits Daily Telegraph readers' prejudices perfectly. I wish Iain the best of luck and hope he publishes more of this stuff.

james higham said...

Paul, the British electorate is like that. They put in an incompetent with no discernible policies [he commissioned Euston to get some]and he was reported as saying the thing was to become PM.

On the strength of his:

1 good looks
2 youthful exuberance [new broom]
3 wife

the British public fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Look at the result. I think Iain Dale has something there.

dontbefooledbyappearances said...

Surely Blair became Leader partly on his photogenic qualities ? Remember Bambi?

skipper said...

I fear dale is basically right re not just women but men too. 'fanciability' might not apply but there is much evidence to suggest people cast their votes based on superficial emotional perceptions and not on a considered appraisal of policies.

Iain Dale said...

Paul, I must say I find it depressing that you have completely missed the point of the article. The last couple of paragraphs refer to non-political women. I could have easily written a similar thing about men - but that wasn't the point of the article. The article was about women, not men. There was nothing remotely chaiuvenistic in it at all. What people on the left cannot get their heads around is that Cameron does indeed appeal to women in far greater numbers than Gordon Brown does.

David Gladwin said...

Captain Spaulding,

"if you poll women - even now when the polls generally are down - you get good results for Labour on child benefit, tax credits etc. Labour has done far more for women than the Tories have ever dreamt of and the child-friendly policies also directly appeal to women who are usually the main carers."

Is this what "women-friendly policies" amount to?

So women are basically home-stayers, and their votes are only on offer to anyone who helps to make this more economically attractive?

Is it me, are men really so terrified of women that they daren't see them - even now - as equals?

Praguetory said...

I bet Iain's sister Sheena appreciated his disclosure. I don't know where you plan to emigrate to, but it is the same in other countries. Check out this incredible thread about Stephen Harper and his lack of appeal to women.

And he got voted in and is likely to call another election to get a bigger mandate. I don't know what it is about Gordon you like (he strikes me as an evasive opportunist), but should he fail at the next election, his lack of sex appeal will only be a small part of the story, I think.

Bryan McGrath said...

I suspect Ian Dale a.k.a. Son of Mrs Dales Dairy is probably correct, at least in part. If you assume 10% of the electorate are 'fluffy' i.e. likely to vote because they like somebody's face or just as likely because they don't like their face e.g. black, female/male, jewish. The 'fluffy' electorate then splits 3 to 1 in favour of the particular prejudice, thus resulting in a 2.5% swing in favour the beneficiary.

However the ‘fluffy’ vote will split in different ways, for instance, Cameron will suffer an anti-toff backlash in a general election.

It is not often that I find myself in agreement with Norman Tebbitt, but he identified the lost 6% of the voting electorate between 1992 and 1997 as the critical section the tories need to win back in order to gain power again. I don’t think they have done it yet, nor are they particularly likely to reacquire them. I suspect voter turnout will go down, back to 59%ish rather than up from 61% of 2005, at the next general election.

Comparing the usual British turnout with the French turnout of 84% last weekend you have got to ask which is the more successful democracy?

TonyBaloney said...

Paul, it is not as simple as style over substance. Even in what appears to be this flippant little game that Dale describes deeper issues are at play. The decision about whether one would or wouldn't sleep with someone else (even in a purely hypothetical situation) reveals the result of a huge amount of our thoughts and feelings, many on a sub conscious level, about that person. Whilst this is a huge over simplification, we are 'programmed' genetically to choose mates that are good for us and our genetic payload. Dale's little poll is probably far more meaningful that you assume. And if you think it has anything to do with Brown just being unfortunate with the physical geometry he was born with you are completely missing the point. It is the net result of how he makes people feel. And, frankly, he gives them the creeps.

Captain Spaulding said...

Thanks for your comment David Gladwin. No, I don't see women as "basically home-stayers", because in the last ten years they have been getting back to work in vast numbers, assisted by Labour's family and child-centred policies -raising child benefit, help with child care, tax credits for those in work, the minimum wage etc.

These are practical policies for which Brown/Blair can take credit, as opposed to the airy/fairy froth that emanates from David Cameron. Cameron prattles on about the work -life balance but the Tories of course opposed signing up to the social chapter which has brought better maternity/paternity rights. Iain Dale mentions without a hint of irony the number of times Cameron has appeared in "glossy magazines" aimed at women – big deal.

I don't think Iain's article was entirely serious but he reveals the depth of prejudice still lurking among the Tories, and actually this is an image that Mr Cameron is trying to get away from.

Of course some politicians have more charisma (and are more sexy) than others but it's a factor that influences men just as much as women and for Iain to suggest otherwise is a) unbelievably patronising to women voters and b) not backed up by any factual evidence.

I quote one of the comments in response to the article on the Telegraph’s site;

Perhaps giving women the vote was a bad idea, if sex appeal is really the criteria they use to make a decision.
Posted by Rob Spear on April 27, 2007 3:19 AM

Yes indeed. They’re still the same old Tories.

MorrisOx said...

Don't think the result would necessarily be anymore flattering to Broon even if modern politics was a triumph of substance over style. We still don't know what the substance is with Gordon.

In any case, style will be a decisive issue for Broon if he hopes to have a future beyond an inherited premiership.

Trhough the Treasury, he tried to control everything the Prime Minister didn't do. Whether or not Ed Balls succeeds him will tell us an awful lot about whether this particular leopard can change his spots in the move from No 11 to No 10. If he doesn't. he will go down in history as a PM who was never elected.

Nosemonkey said...

Surely the "women vote for who they fancy" thing's been going around for a while - Gladstone versus Disraeli and his Primrose League, etc.?

There's probably a measure of truth in it as well - though the shagability factor is, I'd say, no more than an offshoot of the ongoing issue of presentability - another factor that's long been acknowledged in voting habits. In politics, appearances DO matter, it's that simple - especially when, as at present, the differences and issues at stake aren't that massive.

As such, although I haven't read the full article, Dale's comments seem somewhat simplistic at best. They may well be patronising and misogynistic as well, but (to be equally, if not more patronising) I'll excuse him that on the basis that I'm not sure that his grasp of history and statistics (or his analytical ability) is that strong.

The issue of how politicians look doesn't simply affect women, but - consciously or not - all of us. To try and claim it's a gender issue is just silly - the only way in which women may affect the outcome of the next general election more than men is that there are marginally more women than men in the UK - but nowhere near enough to make a major difference.

(Sorry - drunk, rambling, pointless. But I've exceeded bandwidth for the month at my own place, so can't vent...)

Snafu said...

It makes you wonder how Mrs. Thatcher won in 1979, 1983 and 1987!

Anonymous said...

Hmm.. I don't think one can reduce this to a simplistic 'women vote for who they fancy'. But women and men certainly look at the political world differently. For women, far more than men, in my opinion, trust is crucial.

So it is not that women think policy and substance are unimportant, merely that they view it through the prism of how much they trust the politician to be a/telling the truth about their promises, and

b/ how much they trust them not to break those promises and actually to deliver on them once in power.

Much of this trust assessment can only be done by seeing them on telly and hearing them on the radio - old style 'hustings' are a thing of the past.

The second, more controversial area is whether 'fanciability' is linked in some way to trustworthiness and avoiding lying, scheming and two faced 'say one thing, do another'.

Most women I've encountered have an almost supernatural ability to tell when someone is lying. They 'read the mind in the eyes' better than men. That might be an evolutionary defence mechanism which benefits them in choice of partner and thus in the raising of children.

Simon Baron-Cohen's excellent book 'Men and Women: The Essential Difference' discusses this and the relevance of the relative strengths of 'systemising' and 'empathising' in the sexes.

And it isn't only women who make such decisions - job hunters know that tall men and attractive women do much better than average in the candidate selection process. And most American presidents have been taller than the guy they beat.

In short, my view is that women may choose politicians with the same things in mind as when they choose a partner. That may sound like they choose according to sex appeal, but it more likely to be choosing by the same characteristics that would be good for looking after the next generation - which may be one and the same! Is that such a bad thing ?

Chris Abbott said...

Snafu: I don't wonder how Mrs Thatcher won in 1979 and 1983 - '79 "Feel Bad Factor", '83 "Falklands Factor" but as to how she won in 1987 I confess myself stumped.