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Laurie Penny on Nadine Dorries, abortion and newspeak on the right

Dorries's propaganda reveals ugly truths about the coalition's version of "choice".

On the Guardian's Comment Is Free today, Nadine Dorries attempts to justify proposals she is spearheading to restrict women's access to legal abortion and deny proper sex education to young girls.

I have already written about the venal, illiberal campaign in Westmister to force women who wish to terminate pregnancies to go through counselling with an "independent provider" -- likely, in practice, to mean "biased and illiberal" religious counsellors, according to a spokesperson for Abortion Rights UK.

I have also written about how Dorries and some lobbyists are seeking to force these changes through without a vote,and the further hurdles that this will place on the already demeaning and unecessary process of accessing legal abortion in this country. However, one sentence in particular jumps out in Dorries' article, which we will assume was written by Dorries herself and not drafted on her behalf by Christian lobbyists:

At present, the only place a woman can receive pre- or post-abortion counselling paid for by the state is from an abortion provider - who has a clear financial interest in the ultimate decision the woman makes.

Two thoughts immediately occur:

1. If profit is an unacceptable vested interest when private companies are involved in abortion provision, why is it acceptable when it comes to the provision of any other healthcare service?

2. Why does it never, ever occur to Conservatives and other free-market fundamentalists that doctors and other public servants might have other reasons for offering the services they provide besides financial gain? In fact, of all the private companies who currently offer healthcare services in this country, abortion providers are perhaps the most necessary and humane, as their independence offers a crucial lifeline for women too desperate or traumatised by an NHS service in which doctors are allowed to withhold treatment for "moral" reasons.

The government's determination to increase competition in public services automatically assumes that profit is the overriding motive for anyone who works in healthcare, social care or education. It assumes that human beings are naturally selfish, and must be threatened and goaded into doing their jobs properly. That is no way to run a country.

In her article, Dorries speaks of "increasing choice" for women -- by giving them no choice but to go through counselling if they need an abortion. This, too, points to something really venal in coalition newspeak that should worry all of us, whether or not we support a woman's right to safe, legal abortion.

Whether they are discussing cutting public services or obstructing abortion access, the language of "choice" is always employed when confiscating people's most basic rights. We're not restricting access to higher education -- we're letting you choose whether you want to pay £8,000 or £18,000 a year!

The left, too, is guilty of equivocating, of parroting the neo-liberal language of "choice" when we really mean to speak of "rights".

The language of rights and freedoms has corroded over the past three decades, in part because centre-left governments have been quick to adopt managerial rhetoric, to speak of "outcomes" and "choices" whenever it seemed that social justice and human dignity might not play well to the Murdoch press. (Adam Curtis' excellent documentary The Trap is a great explanation of the history and ideology behind this managerial discourse of 'choice'.)

The "pro-choice" campaign is as good a flashpoint as any. Speaking of protecting women's "choices" is a mitigated way, toothless way of discussing what's really at stake -- every woman's right to have control over what happens to her body, every woman's right not to be forced to undergo pregnancy and labour against her will when there are medical alternatives.

Speaking of the "right to choose" is a reasonable and decent compromise, but a compromise nonetheless.

Across the left, we must not allow ourselves to capitulate to the managerial language of the right, because they will always be better at it than us, by virtue of really meaning it. We need to stop talking about choice, and start talking about rights -- whether that's the right to healthcare, housing and a decent standard of living, or the right to access abortion services without being forced to undergo counselling, as if we were unable to cope with the responsibility of freedom.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Poverty Britain calling Labour: Get radical or lose your heartlands to the right

Moderate policies don't reflect the extremity of the times.

If you woke up on the 24th June in shock to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU, you won't have been alone. Perhaps you also felt similar feelings about the Labour party last September, when it elected its most left-wing leader in a generation.

I am an ex-charity leader and Labour party activist who ended up leading the Remain campaign in the North East. What is happening politically in the UK is less of a shock to me.

I know a world you probably will never see. In my 12 years of working in North East communities, I have worked with children who lived three miles from the beach but who had never seen the sea. I have supported grown women who had never been to a restaurant. I counselled boys who had never left the town they were born in, and handed out food parcels to widows whose benefit sanction meant they had no food. This is Poverty Britain, and people are hurting.

I knew the EU referendum was going to be tough, when on the first day of the Stronger In campaign trail in the North East, we hit the town of Washington, close to Sunderland. Boarded-up shop fronts, grey faces and eyes on the floor all told of hardship and decline. The people here were already converted - they wanted out. These people, like those I had worked, had been ignored for too long. Their story overlooked, their lives forgotten and their plight becoming harder and harder.

As situations become more extreme, so do the solutions people turn to. Moderate middle ground policies don’t speak to the pain of someone living in the backwaters of a post-industrial city. Saving your NHS, reducing migration, taking back control and blaming “others”, does. It offers a simple solution to complex problems.

Corbynism grows against a similar backdrop. Corbyn has a message of hope. He is calling out for a new type of society, for tackling vested interests, going after the bankers, offering free education for all, speaking up for the vulnerable and doing politics differently. To some, he might seem as extreme as voting for Brexit or UKIP. But to the disability activist fighting welfare changes, or the cleaners and teaching assistants fighting for better pay, or the women's group fighting cuts in domestic violence services, a more radical Labour party offers hope. Like Brexiteers, these people are disillusioned and fed up of the status quo. They too want change. 

Centrists in the Labour party believe a Corbyn-led Labour party means any chance of change will be impossible, because Corbyn will keep them out of power. Corbynism is only for those middle-class, liberal lefty types, they say. He doesn’t speak to the mainstream.

The reality is less clear cut. On the campaign trail, speaking to working-class voters, I sensed confusion. They liked some of what he has to say, but he didn’t chime with their deeply patriotic and nationalist identities (or what they had read in the right-wing press). 

The biggest problem for Labour, though, is the focus on a leader to take them to the promised land. But the Labour party is as much about those within it as the leader. The real radical politics is as much about ownership and engagement as policy.

We can collectively decide the future, working together from a grassroots level, and rebuild the Labour party we want to see. There are some brilliant ideas within the party -  radical and practical, innovative and traditional. Harnessing these ideas could enable the Labour party to be the central force in British politics once again.

One thing is for sure, without a new left-wing offer that speaks to the dissatisfaction many British citizens are feeling, radical right wing ideas. If that happens, I dread what type of country we could become.