December 17, 2019 - 8:01am

Percentage point difference between men’s and women’s support for Labour and the Conservatives. Credit: Resolution Foundation.

Boris Johnson has a woman problem. And it’s not the usual kind he gets into — in fact you might say it’s the opposite. At the ballot box, Boris is a turnoff for female voters. Now, there is a huge six percentage point gap between men and women’s support for Britain’s two main parties.

Wise heads will be worrying about this in Tory HQ. I remember when David Cameron briefly panicked about a drop in his approval ratings among women. He asked all the women in Downing Street to come up with some policy ideas. There weren’t many of us: in fact Cameron had three times as many Etonians as women in his civil service policy unit. But we came up with some great ideas that will have to feature in my memoir some day because they never went anywhere.

But if the wise heads decide to reconvene this policy working group, they’ll be making a mistake. There are plenty of good policy ideas out there to improve women’s lot in our society: the Women’s Equality Party produced a whole manifesto’s worth, which they’ve very generously encouraged other parties to steal. I just don’t think it’s the policies that are the problem. It’s the political willy-waving.

Arbitrary deadlines for which you’ll die in a ditch. Lies, manipulation and bombast. Fuck business. Sack anyone who dares question me. Using ‘girly’ as an insult. Accusing women MPs who fear for their safety of ‘humbug.’ Slagging off single mothers when you’ve walked away from any number of your own children. Refusing to look at a picture of a little boy stuck on the floor in A&E.

Those who know our PM tell me that, in fact, he’s very charming in person. But the persona he projects in our politics is the boorish yob you avoid at the Christmas party, the kind of man you pray your sons won’t grow into. He’s a Top Gear politician: diggers, high jinx, and sod the consequences.

If he wants to bring women on board, it’s the tone that needs to change. That’s why it’s great to read Rachel Wolf — who helped write the Conservative manifesto — asserting that Boris is interested in deliberative democracy, and new forms of public participation in our politics. If this is true then there’s hope for our politics. Because you’re much more likely to improve Britain if you find practical solutions to our problems, than if you drive a JCB right through them.

Polly Mackenzie is Director of Demos, a leading cross-party think tank. She served as Director of Policy to the Deputy Prime Minister from 2010-2015.