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David Cameron has woman trouble; all the opinion polls show it. The prime minister is losing the support of the female vote, which is tricky because no Conservative leader has ever won without it. Partly this is because women are more directly feeling the impact of spending cuts; but Mr Cameron’s difficulties are compounded by what seems to be a patronising air towards women. He told one female opponent to “calm down dear” and sniggered feebly at an unintended sexual innuendo when talking to another.

Now he is racing to show his female-friendly side, ostentatiously promoting women MPs and even changing the constitution to end the bias against women acceding to the throne. But there remains something desperately obvious and old-fashioned about all his efforts to woo women, reminiscent perhaps of the veteran British actor Leslie Phillips, best known for playing hopeless upper class seducers. One can see the film now, not so much Doctor in Distress as Premier in a Pickle. The scene is Number 10. The PM looks up from his work.

“Hello-oh, lovely to see you. Now where was I? Oh yes, women, can’t live with them can’t win without them. Turns out I’ve got a spot of bother on the old female front. I may have told one of my ladies not to get ‘frustrated’ and some Labour gel to ‘calm down dear’, but I’ve always believed the girls like a chap who takes command. Couldn’t believe it when the old pollster told me they didn’t like me. ‘I say,’ I cried ‘that’s a bit harsh. I’ve always been rather a hit with the fairer sex. Is it the thinning hair?’ I asked anxiously. The pollster shook his head. ‘It’s worse than that,’ he replied. ‘What, you mean an actual bald patch?’ I asked.

“Bit of a dent to the old confidence, I can tell you. But the evidence was there; the fillies don’t think I’m on their side. I’d need to turn on the old charm, especially as I haven’t got a brass farthing to spend on them. But I wasn’t worried. Just give them a bit more attention, pay them some compliments. I’d read How to Win with Women. Silvio recommended it, he swears by it and he does all right.

“They said my government needed more women, that it looked like a posh boys’ club. As luck would have it, I got the chance for an early cabinet reshuffle. I’ve had my eye on this little blonde number in accounts; Justine, ding dong. I left nothing to chance. I’d spent the morning sculpting my hair over the bald spot. I took her out for a spin in the Jag, stopped in a country lane and looked deep into her eyes: ‘Listen, Justine, I think you’d make an absolutely super transport secretary, really brighten up the place.’ I could tell she was pleased. ‘But aren’t I bit inexperienced? I’m not sure I’m ready,’ she asked. ‘Don’t you worry your pretty head about that,’ I said suavely, ‘I’ve enough experience for both of us. Besides the cabinet’s full of men who aren’t up to it, so I don’t see why that should be a bar to women.’

“It needs more than a few cosmetic changes, the pollsters told me. OK, I said. I was giving a speech on exec pay so I chucked in a few lines about how putting more women on boards would hold down directors’ pay. Well, stands to reason doesn’t it? You don’t have to pay ’em as much for one thing. Someone asked how I’d actually get more women on boards. ‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘but there must be some brownie points for saying it.’ I’d also announced plans to make forced marriages illegal; after a year in coalition with Clegg, I realise how awful they are.

“ ‘All right,’ I said, ‘how about this? We’ll change the constitution, ending the presumption in favour of male heirs. That’s got to be a powerful signal; they’re bound to look at me differently then. With this reform and a bit of luck we could have a woman on the throne within 60 years.’ The pollsters weren’t impressed. They said most women had more pressing concerns than the order of succession. I said they should remember that all women are princesses to me. ‘You won’t actually say that in public will you, Prime Minister?’ said a mousy little frump they’d brought with them. ‘Calm down dear,’ I told her.”

Number of the birth

We are reliably informed that the seven-billionth inhabitant of the planet was born was this week, probably on Monday. We cannot, however, know where said child was born or who it is. You’d think, given the coverage, the child would have some Damian-like number of the beast identifying mark on its scalp. A seven and nine zeros, presumably.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.

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