THE DECLINE Of the first Blair administration may well be dated from the day in June 2000 when Mr Blair was rebuffed, rejected and humiliated by an audience of the Women's Institute.
It is not displeasing to see the mighty brought down from their seats, and there was much gloating satisfaction that the Prime Minister had been put in his place by an audience of housewives.
There have been many different analyses of the W I disaster — midterm blues, wrong judgement by the spin doctors, even paternity leave fatigue on the part of Tony Blair. To me, it illuminates once again the basic differences between men and women.
It is a generalisation — but it is also generally true, in my experience – that women as a group are not interested in abstract concepts. Women are bored by phrases like "the forces of conservatism", which don't mean anything in particular, or mean whatever the spin doctor wants them to mean. They are equally sceptical about phrases invoking good old British traditional values, if such phrases have no context, no specific examples, or no human angle attached to them.
Women arc interested in specifics, in details, in narrative that illustrates human predicaments. In the case of the Women's Institute, Blair's audience was focused on particular problems associated with education, the health service, the closures of rural post offices and the crises in agriculture, while the Prime Minister was waffling away in typical male political mode.
For many women, "men's talk" is boring, because it may be too full of abstractions and hypotheses. Women often dislike hypothetical questions because they are abstract projections unrelated to real life; men are interested in hypothetical ideas because they appeal to fantasies and problem-solving concepts.
The reason why there is not, and never will he unless through a coercive system of affirmative action — the same number of women as men in political life is because of female impatience with political waffle. Whereas men like political waffle, and the more of it the better.
When you go to a female audience, you must concen Irate on the specific, on the human, on narrative — eyes immediately brighten when you start telling a story and on how theory affects the practice of everyday life. Yes, women are interested in moral ideas — in education, in criminal justice, and in religious life — but they like to relate them to specific examples of human dilemmas regularly encountered.
If you want to understand women's minds, watch the soap operas. Or listen to them — The Archers is a very well-constructed story that illustrates all sorts of political and moral themes, by looking at specific problems.
Unfortunately, Tony Blair doesn't understand this because he is surrounded by a false social theory that forbids examining the issue. This false theory is the polit
ically correct nostrum of "equality", which is sacrosanct. New Labour holds that since men and women are equal, therefore they are the same. If fathers go out to work, mothers must go out to work in exactly the same way; if mothers take maternity leave, then fathers must take paternity leave too, just as though their biological constitution had been put through the same process of pregnancy, childbirth and suckling. No differences between men and women must be acknowledged, and insofar as it is possible, culture must be "gender neutral".
Armed with this false theory, Mr Blair is not aware of the fact that addressing 10,000 women requires a completely different approach than addressing 10,000 men, or even 10,000 people in a mixed audience. And so he comes a cropper.
But as in life, so in politics. We must learn old truths by the experience of humility and suffering, and at the end of our experience, we come to realise that certain facts are eternal and immutable: and one of these is that "man and woman, He created them" —to be different.
Not, I might add, that all
the W I ladies were particularly nice people, or with particularly attractive views. One Mrs Marion Chilcott, described as one of the W I ringleaders, described the Blair baby, Leo, as "that ugly, boring, baby" and criticised Mrs Blair for having a fourth child — "but she's a Catholic, isn't she?" Mrs Chilcott, according to The Mirror, came from a family tradition of voting for the National Front.
Men and women can have equally nasty opinions, without being equally the same.
P THEIRISH singer
P THEIRISH singer
Sinead O'Connor, a mother of two, who once outraged Americans by tearing up a picture of the Pope onstage, and then went on to be "ordained" a priest, and subsequently a bishop, in a fictitious branch of the Catholic Church, has now declared that she is a lesbian. Funny how Sinead reinvents herself in some new sensational guise each time she has a new album coming out. Someone should tell her that she has a truly beautiful voice, and does not need to keep devising publicity stunts to have that fact appreciated.