UK Politics

Do politicians ignore the 'men's vote'?

Rugby players
Image caption Are men missing out on the political action?

Listen to the Westminster political debate in recent months and you will hear one group regularly given special attention: women.

Ed Miliband has accused the government of introducing changes in areas such as social security that are "hitting women twice as hard as men".

Meanwhile, David Cameron says that, with government initiatives like lifting over a million people out of paying tax, "it is mostly women who benefit".

But what you will not hear is the opposite - top politicians saying they have policies specifically directed at male voters, or "male issues".

Alienated men

The explanation for this may seem obvious. Politics is male-dominated, therefore men set the agenda.

But some men say they feel increasingly alienated from politicians who seem to talk less about their concerns.

Glen Poole is strategic director of the Men's Network based in Brighton, which recently held a national conference to raise awareness among other men's groups and policy-makers about their agenda.

The network focuses on issues such as poor male physical and mental health, male suicide rates, boys' underachievement at school, lack of male role models and parental leave.

When politicians talk about women's issues, Glen says: "I have my moments of shouting at the telly: 'What about the men?'"

And he believes that "people are becoming more and more comfortable in talking about men's issues in a way that doesn't assume it's in opposition to women".

Brain differences

Might policy-makers take note?

Alex Bailey, a former chief executive with a local authority on the south coast of England, says neuroscience is teaching us that there are fundamental differences between the male and female brain and "policy-making will follow".

This is not just a matter of academic interest. He helps to run A Band of Brothers, which provides mentoring and role models to young men who may otherwise become extremely disruptive to society - as we saw in last summer's riots.

"If you neglect certain male issues", he argues, "you do store up considerable problems".

But when it comes to other areas, is there broader evidence of a male-female divide in political attitudes?

In some areas there is not much of a difference.

Political observers point out that other factors, such as social background or income level, will be much more significant than gender.

But recent opinion polls do suggest that men are a bit more optimistic about the economy, and more opposed to public sector strikes.

This may well be linked to women being disproportionately employed in the public sector.

Men have always been keener on foreign military intervention too. And there is an intriguing division in Scotland on the question of Scottish independence.

'Heart nationalists'

Rachel Ormston, of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, reports that men are more than twice as likely as women to be so-called "heart nationalists", supporting independence "even if that meant the standard of living in Scotland would be worse".

Image caption Men might want to reclaim some "women's issues" for themselves, suggests Dr Rosie Campbell

This is one example, some observers say, of how women tend to be more cautious and risk-averse when making up their political minds.

And that may reinforce the idea among political strategists that women as voters need to be addressed more directly and specifically than men.

This goes back a long way. From the moment women achieved the vote in the 1920s, political campaigners have targeted them and what are categorised as "women's issues" - family, for example, or household spending.

It used to be posters depicting tea-drinking ladies urged to do their political duty. These days it is politicians' desperation to appear on Mumsnet.

'Excludes men'

Men are rarely if ever addressed in this collective way.

But even if there is no acceptance of a specific set of male political interests, there may be more of a challenge to the idea that family issues are exclusively female issues.

Women's issues, says Glen Poole, should not be focused on "in a way that excludes men".

Dr Rosie Campbell, an academic specialising in gender politics, has some sympathy.

"If a father wants to get home to do bath-time, that is looked on less sympathetically than if he were a woman.

"There are issues we've tended to call 'women's issues'," she adds, "that men might want to claim back for themselves."

But the Westminster strategists will remain sceptical about the idea of a "male vote".

It is hard to imagine that we will soon hear Ed Miliband and David Cameron boasting over the despatch box of how much they are making policies for men.

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