Carolyn Steedman

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that my Conservative-voting mother ever caused me real embarrassment. She came from a line of Lancashire weavers, Liberal, then strong Labour voters. There are not many roles offered by the Labour movement to women, but the grittily romantic weaver-heroine is one of the few: dawn-rising, clogs on the cobbles, six looms managed, babies fed at the side door of the mill, money brought home, food to the table, doorsteps worn down by scrubbing: women worked to the bone. She arrived at adolescence and school-leaving age as the Lancashire cotton trade went into severe recession. She never went into the sheds, and worked at a series of unskilled jobs for the rest of her life. She always voted Tory.

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[*] The Iron Ladies: Why do women vote Tory? Virago, 307 pp., £4.95, 30 March, 0 86068 689 2.