Keep your rosaries off our ovaries…

Guest blogger Hang Bitch returns to Bright's Blog this time writing about the issue of abortion

Tory MP Nadine Dorries gears up to take another swat at abortion rights. Most women are very keen for Nadine to find another hobby.

Phd student Laura Schwartz, 25, was an organiser for one of two recent pro-abortion rallies in London. She, like many of us, was all set for combat, but finding the need for it very peculiar. 'The right to abortion needs to be fought for again,' she said, clearly perturbed by that fact. 'We want to do something that is direct action, where normal women can counter the pro-life brigade.'

Fair call to arms: those pro-life maniacs certainly need countering. Tory MP Nadine Dorries (the rather toothsome middle-aged blonde who famously finished just out of the medals in the recent most-fanciable MPs contest) has galvanised for Jesus H Christ and assorted Almighties and is about to table another private member's bill that compromises abortion rights (at the time of writing, the bill was still due to be tabled on 23 March).

Nadine's tried this before, and not so long ago: her last termination of pregnancy bill, which got a decided licking when it came to the vote, was an attempt to cut the time limit for legal abortion, and to bring a compulsory ten-day cooling-off period into frame for women who want abortions – ten days presumably being the amount of time the average female needs to work out that she's fluffed, and find God.

Nadine is not a pro-lifer, according to her blog. Alas, she remains a literal godsend to the (very) few people who are pro-lifers with this private bill: that lot will take any evidence that the Lord swings the pendulum in favour of their limping offensive. Dorries advocates cutting the time-limit for legal abortion from 24 weeks, on the grounds, it seems, that a baby might feel pain at that age (although that's also a point of vigorous debate) and that technical improvements - let's call it them improvements – make it possible to save babies born before they've spent 24 weeks' in the womb. A few technical go-getters have even managed to shave two weeks off the 24-weeks' gestation benchmark and resuscitated babies born at 22 weeks. By this logic, a late abortion is a sort of two-fingered salute to advances in neonate preservation.

The pro-abortion argument is, rightly, that (the very few) women who want safe, late abortions aren't particularly interested to know that the science is also right for people who want to break neonate-resuscitation records. Late abortion and premature-baby resuscitation are two completely different fields. It seems very unlikely that any woman ever wanted both at the same time. The two disciplines have nothing to do with each other. Those who pretend they do draw a very long bow.

There's not much doubt that we are very good at medical advance. The bit that we're not so good at, as Laura Schwartz rightly says, is the real-life, social-responsibility part of the reproductive picture. We're not, for example, very good at supporting mothers at work and at home. 'We are still in a very bad position in terms of equal pay, a living wage for working-class women, and benefits that single mothers can live on,' Schwartz says.

We are.It's not like things are improving in a hurry those fronts, either. People who are on benefits are already short of fans: anybody who fancies himself as a political chance floats the idea that everybody on welfare is a cheat, and then floats the idea of cracking down on welfare cheats. Women are still at a disadvantage when it comes to pay, promotion and flexible working arrangements. The eagerness MPs show to line up for God/Allah is chilling, too. The political stage as we have it is cluttered with a quite fascinating cast of religious zealots and/or Christian and Muslim toadies, all of whom have far too much say on subjects for which they have no sympathy whatsoever - ie, women, the entirely human contraceptive oversights that lead to unwanted pregnancy, and getting fired from your job when you get knocked up. Even the SWP has found Allah. Nadine may be no pro-lifer, but she is an opportunist. Why do female MPs want to give sexism a tail wind in this way?

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.