OPINION

Does "The Man" actually want women to vote?

Politicians claim they want more women to vote, but their efforts are patronising, at best, and insincere, at worst 

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By Lauren Laverne on

Gird your loins, ladies. The general election is almost upon us and politicians are looking at you – yes YOU – with a sexytime twinkle in their eyes. Once again female voters hold the balance of power. Research shows that women are more likely to delay a final decision on which way to vote and as such we are currently being "wooed" by parties of every stamp. Labour splashed out on Barbie-pink bus for Harriet Harman to tour the country in that was so girly it just stopped short of headlight eyelashes and a bra for its undercarriage. David Cameron revealed his signature dish, love of detective dramas and the fact that Sam Cam chooses his clothes to Woman and Home. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls conducted a radio interview during which he described himself as a "long, slow burn" in the bedroom, lending a harrowing new meaning to the phrase "hung parliament".

Women are less likely to vote than men. At the last election 9.2 million women failed to vote, compared to 8 million men. The amount of "missing voters" is up 79% since 1992, and growing. Why can’t politicians connect with us?

Perhaps because of the kind of effort they’re making. All this "wooing" feels as sincere and enjoyable as being chatted up by the most boring bloke in the bar. The kind of dude who thinks owning a tie and speed-reading The Game makes him Don Draper. Who asks himself questions so he can answer them authoritatively (“Am I passionate about blahdy blah? Yes I’m passionate about blahdy blah!”) and whose corporate phraseology is a problem - sorry a challenge - that makes you want to tell him to "go forward" and multiply.

There’s no excuse for the failure of the political system to engage the female electorate. The raw materials that make up the conversation they’re supposed to be conducting couldn’t be more critical or personal to any of us. Governance is triage. It means plunging elbow-deep into the blood and bones of a working country, manipulating vital processes as they occur, saving lives, spending them. Operating at top speed, at the intersection between biography and history – everything about it matters. So why is the best we get so awful, so often?

I used to think it was accidental. The unhappy consequence of too much spin, PR and ill-advised focus groups (at this point my sociologist father would start shouting about how you’re only supposed to use focus groups to determine the questions of a survey you’re writing. Not to decide things). But I’ve started to wonder. What if they’re doing it on purpose? What if political patter is so lame because, actually, the way things are is working really well … for politicians? What if this unconvincing come-hither talk is actually a genius double bluff? If I were The Man (by which I mean one of The Establishment as opposed to a male human) would I want more women to vote? 

Britain’s parliamentary makeup does not reflect the country’s. The Commons is 78% male. Meanwhile, British women are significantly more liberal than British men. This wasn’t always the case, but research reveals a perceptible shift over recent decades. Women today have more progressive attitudes than men to issues across the board. If policy and parliament were truly representative, the picture would look very different. I don’t think it’s overly cynical to wonder why the people at the top would want that.

Then there’s all that business-speak. It’s worth remembering that language isn’t just a tool for communication. It can be used to exert control, and to exclude. Making political language oblique and impenetrable stops people participating in the process. It is a code that implies expertise and ownership, but proof of neither. It is a way of speaking that says "this belongs to us" and which keeps those who struggle to master or make sense of it at arms length from the system. If we find all that cheesy smooth-talk a turn off and disengage completely, who benefits? 

I have more questions than answers, but I do know one thing. There’s an X going in my box on May 7. How about yours, tiger? 

You can register to vote here.

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Lauren Laverne
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