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Women warn Blair that he has lost their respect and votes

By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent

14 March 2005

When Kate Moss warned Tony Blair that he was about to lose her vote, the Prime Minister was not being snubbed by the world-famous supermodel. But the other Ms Moss, who works for a gas company in south London, had a more chilling message for Mr Blair, because it is echoed by millions of other British women.

She told him on LWT's Jonathan Dimbleby programme: "After the 1997 election, I felt a huge sense of euphoria you heralded a new breed of politician and gave me a great deal of hope for the future. I even felt proud to be British. Today you've lost my respect. I need a reason to vote for you; I want you to give me that reason."

Ms Moss, 35, added: "The decisions made around Iraq in particular have sat very uncomfortably with me and I can't reconcile myself to those decisions you made and to voting for you in the next election."

An ICM poll has found that Mr Blair, once a crucial asset for female voters, was now an electoral turn-off for women. Just 28 per cent thought he was honest and 29 per cent wanted him to resign immediately.

With women making up more than half the electorate, the parties never lose sight of their importance. In the general election expected in May, they are desperate in particular to secure the support of younger women, notoriously volatile in their voting patterns.

For that reason all three party leaders have given interviews to the latest edition of Cosmopolitan magazine, and Mr Blair consented to an all-female television interrogation. The Prime Minister endured a polite roasting across the spectrum of issues, from Iraq and public services to hospital cleanliness and help for rape victims. Caroline Hudson-Jones, from Southend-on-Sea, told him she had taken her own disinfectant to hospital because she was so shocked at the "filthy" condition of the wards. Mr Blair said she had a "fair point", adding: "There is no reason why we can't get the cleanliness in hospitals correct."

Sharon Croxford, from Milton Keynes, said she had fought back against an attacker with a knife and was warned she could be prosecuted for assault. The Prime Minister said: "It would be completely absurd if you were charged."

In the Cosmopolitan interviews, all three party leaders field questions from the magazine's editor, Sam Baker, compiled from research with readers. Mr Blair warns young women who do not vote that they are putting hard-won freedoms at risk, and the Tory leader, Michael Howard, says he can best represent a 27-year-old woman and understand her worries because he has a daughter that age.

Charles Kennedy, for the Liberal Democrat, calls for tougher regulation of taxis and more counselling for rape victims. On abortion, Mr Kennedy says it is too easily obtained and suggested the time limit should be cut from 24 to 20 weeks. He says: "What we have now is tantamount to abortion on demand. I believe abortion should be available to everyone, but the laws should be changed."