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The meaning of the F-word: Making better choices

Julie Bindel, activist and writer

I consider it a priority to challenge the libertarians on the notion of women's "choice". Today, we can apparently "choose" to work as prostitutes, wear a niqab with just the eyes visible through a slit, give up a fulfilling career to have and raise children, get married and keep the "obey" bit in the vows, become porn stars, join pole-dancing classes, have breast enlargement, labiaplasty and other forms of cosmetic surgery, drink men under the table, raise girls on The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls and boys on The Dangerous Book for Boys, sexually harass men at work, have loads of unprotected sex, denounce feminism as irrelevant nonsense, go to lap-dancing clubs with male colleagues, ogle male strippers at "ladies' nights", produce lesbian porn, adopt a fundamentalist religious position, send your daughter to have her clitoris removed and vaginal opening stitch­ed up in preparation for marriage, and other "freedoms" too numerous to mention. Interestingly, in the heyday of feminism, these freedoms were perceived as bad for women.

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This article first appeared in the 12 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The weaker sex

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Lord Geoffrey Howe dies, age 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.