Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Women to win

Why women must be visible in the In campaign

During the first week of the European Union referendum campaign, the airwaves and newspapers were awash with men in suits. Senior Tory politicians, businesspeople and retired army generals dominated the headlines. Most of whom were men.

Pro-Europeans will miss a trick if we fail to appeal to women voters. There are one million more women voters than men and they are twice as likely to be undecided about Europe. Women generally find the ideological Eurosceptic arguments less persuasive than men, the United Kingdom Independence party attracts fewer women supporters, and Nigel Farage is trusted by fewer women than men.

There are three things that pro-Europeans should do to win over women voters: articulate arguments that appeal to women, motivate them to vote, and put forward more women to make the case.

Leading pollster Deborah Mattinson has warned against, ‘reeling off GDP figures and economic studies in a very abstract way that’s quite alien to how most people think about the economy’. She argues that these macroeconomic arguments are least likely to strike a chord with women voters and that pro-Europeans need to talk in a more granular way about how staying or leaving the EU would affect people’s jobs, homes, children and grandchildren. We have to find local and personal examples that resonate with women.

European employment rights and protections for part-time and agency workers, and maternity leave provisions affect women and should therefore strike a particular chord with them. As Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady recently underlined, these rights will be on the ballot paper at the referendum given that we cannot trust the Tory government to restore them if were to leave the EU.

It is important to lead with the positive arguments, but setting out the risks of leaving will also be vital to winning over women. In other referendums, women have been considerably more risk-averse and have been more likely to support the status quo than men. Two years ago fewer women voted for Scottish independence than men. It seemed that the key reason for this is that women were worried about the consequences of separation from the United Kingdom.

As well as persuading women, pro-Europeans will need to motivate women to vote. Like the population as a whole, older women are more likely to be Eurosceptic, and younger women are more likely to be pro-European. Older voters are more likely to vote than younger voters. So inspiring young and middle-aged women to vote will be crucial to our success.

Putting up women to make these concrete arguments will be vital to winning over women voters. There are already some strong pro-European women involved in the debate, such as Frances O’Grady as well as businesswomen like Karren Brady and Carolyn McCall. The Britain Stronger In Europe campaign recently organised a letter in support of our membership which was signed by 200 prominent women, and we need more women to be putting the case over the airwaves.

Men in suits are dominating the headlines but they will not decide the outcome of this referendum. Pro-Europeans must win over women voters who could hold the key to success in this campaign.


Emma Reynolds MP is a former shadow minister for Europe


This article originally appeared in the International Women’s Day special edition guest-edited by broadcaster and former adviser to Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman, Ayesha Hazarika.

If you are a woman member of the Labour party, but not currently a member of Progress and would like a free copy of this edition please get in touch.



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Emma Reynolds MP

is a former member of the shadow cabinet

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