Nigel Farage during the Rochester by-election, which Tory defector Mark Reckless won for Ukip. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage struggling and Clegg in danger of losing seat, Ashcroft poll shows

Ukip are five points behind the Tories in Thanet South with the Lib Dems just three points ahead of Labour in Sheffield Hallam. 

Of all the constituency polls Lord Ashcroft has published in recent months (May2015 has collected them all here), today's is the most fascinating. In addition to polling 11 Lib Dem-Tory marginals, Ashcroft looked at the state of play in three noteworthy seats: Ed Miliband's Doncaster North, Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam and Nigel Farage's target of Thanet South. 

He found Miliband 12 points ahead in his seat (compared to 26 in 2010) with Ukip in second on 28 per cent and the Tories in third on 23 per cent. As Farage's party have been quick to point out, this means that they could defeat the Labour leader if Conservative supporters vote tactically for them. Cameron is fond of warning "Vote Farage, get Miliband" but in Doncaster at least, Ukip can warn "Vote Tory, get Miliband". 

But while the Labour leader has little reason to fear losing his seat (12 points is a comfortable lead), the same cannot be said of Clegg. Ashcroft's poll found him just three points ahead of Labour in Sheffield, a margin too close for comfort. Clegg's seat, in which he had a lead of 19,096 over Miliband's party in 2010, is not one of the 106 seats targeted by the opposition at the election, but with the race this tight, plenty of MPs will be offering their help. Tom Watson tweeted: "Clearing my diary and heading to Sheffield". Defeating Clegg in Sheffield would, after all, be the easiest way for Labour to avoid having to mark with him in the likely event of another hung parliament. This said, given that he's ahead even before any swing-back effect, Clegg will almost certainly retain his seat. 

Unusually, Ashcroft also has some grim news for Ukip. The party is five points behind the Tories in Thanet South (34-29), where Farage is standing, with Labour just three behind. The Ukip leader is likely to devote more attention to the seat next year (which he has been charged with neglecting) but that he's behind at this stage, before any late swing-back, suggests he may fail to join Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless on the Commons' benches. 

More broadly, the poll shows the Lib Dem vote holding up well against the Tories, with the Conservatives on course to win just two of the 11 seats surveyed. As Harry recently noted on May 2015, and as I've written before, this suggests that existing Lib Dem MPs are benefiting from an incumbency effect and that Labour are likely to gain most from the collapse of the party's national vote. Given that the Tories need to make significant gains from the Lib Dems (they are in second place in 37 of the party's 56 seats) to compensate for their likely losses to Labour, it is Ed Miliband who has most reason to smile today. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Morning after pill: It's time to say no to the "ultimate sexist surcharge"

A new campaign aims to put pressure on the government to reduce the cost of emergency contraception.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service recently launched its Just Say Non! campaign to highlight the fact that British women pay up to five times more for emergency contraception than women on the continent. The justification for the UK price of up to £30 – and the mandatory consultation with a pharmacist – is that otherwise British women might use the morning-after pill as a regular method of contraception. After all, you know what us ladies are like. Give us any form of meaningful control over our reproductive lives and before you know it we’re knocking back those emergency pills just for the nausea and irregular bleeding highs.

Since BPAS announced the campaign on Tuesday, there has been much hand-wringing over whether or not it is a good idea. The Daily Mail quotes family policy researcher Patricia Morgan, who claims that “it will just encourage casual sex and a general lack of responsibility,” while Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, which promotes what it calls "traditional values", fears that “there is a very real danger that [emergency contraception] could be misused or overused.”  

The Department of Health has indicated that it has no intention of changing current policy: “We are clear it is only for use in emergencies and we have no plans to change the system.” But why not? What is the worst that could happen? Wells argues that: “The health risks to women who use the morning-after pill repeatedly over a period of time are not known.” This may be true. But do you know what is known? The health risks to women who get pregnant. Pregnancy kills hundreds of women every single day. There are no hypotheticals here.  

The current understanding of risk in relation to contraception and abortion is distorted by a complete failure to factor in the physical, psychological and financial risk posed by pregnancy itself. It is as though choosing not to be pregnant is an act of self-indulgence, akin to refusing to do the washing up or blowing one’s first pay packet on a pair of ridiculous shoes. It’s something a woman does to “feel liberated” without truly understanding the negative consequences, hence she must be protected from herself. Casually downing pills in order to get out of something as trivial as a pregnancy? What next?

Being pregnant – gestating a new life – is not some neutral alternative to risking life and limb by taking the morning-after pill. On the contrary, while the UK maternal mortality rate of 9 per 100,000 live births is low compared to the global rate of 216, pregnant women are at increased risk of male violence and conditions such as depression, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and hyperemesis. And even if one dismisses the possible risks, one has to account for the inevitabilities. Taking a pregnancy to term will have a significant impact on a woman’s mind and body for the rest of her life. There is no way around this. Refusing to support easy access to emergency contraception because it strikes you as an imperfect solution to the problem of accidental pregnancy seems to me rather like refusing to vote for the less evil candidate in a US presidential election because you’d rather not have either of them. When it comes to relative damage, pregnancy is Donald Trump.

There is only a short window in a woman’s menstrual cycle when she is at her most fertile, hence a contraceptive failure will not always lead to a pregnancy. Knowing this, many women will feel that paying £30 to avoid something which, in all probability, is not going to happen is simply unjustifiable. I’ve bought emergency contraception while conscious that, either because I was breastfeeding or very close to my period, I’d have been highly unlikely to conceive. If that money had been earmarked to spend on the gas bill or food for my children, I might have risked an unwanted pregnancy instead. This would not have been an irrational choice, but it is one that no woman should have to make.

Because it is always women who have to make these decisions. Male bodies do not suffer the consequences of contraceptive failure, yet we are not supposed to say this is unfair. After all, human reproduction is natural and nature is meant to be objective. One group of people is at risk of unwanted pregnancy, another group isn’t. That’s life, right? Might as well argue that it is unfair for the sky to be blue and not pink. But it is not human reproduction itself that is unfair; it is our chosen response to it. Just because one class of people can perform a type of labour which another class cannot, it does not follow that the latter has no option but to exploit the former. And let’s be clear: the gatekeeping that surrounds access to abortion and emergency contraception is a form of exploitation. It removes ownership of reproductive labour from the people who perform it.

No man’s sperm is so precious and sacred that a woman should have to pay £30 to reduce the chances of it leaving her with an unwanted pregnancy. On the contrary, the male sex owes an immeasurable debt to the female sex for the fact that we continue with any pregnancies at all. I don’t expect this debt to be paid off any time soon, but cheap emergency contraception would be a start. Instead we are going backwards.

This year’s NHS report on Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in England states both that the number of emergency contraception items provided for free by SRH services has “fallen steadily over the last ten years” and that the likelihood of a woman being provided with emergency contraception “will be influenced by the availability of such services in their area of residence.” With significant cuts being made to spending on contraception and sexual health services, it is unjustifiable for the Department of Health to continue using the excuse that the morning-after pill can, theoretically, be obtained for free. One cannot simultaneously argue in favour of a pricing policy specifically aimed at being a deterrent then claim there is no real deterrent at all.

BPAS chief executive Anne Furedi is right to call the price of Levonelle “the ultimate sexist surcharge.” It not only tells women our reproductive work has no value, but it insists that we pay for the privilege of not having to perform it. It’s time we started saying no

 

 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.