The irony of male cameramen issuing instructions to the protesters. All photos: Anoosh Chakelian
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Irony alert: how a protest about porn turned into a lot of men gawping at women

At the porn protest outside parliament today, the people sitting on other people's faces behaved impeccably. So why did I come away feeling slightly dirty? Oh yes, because of the way some male cameramen behaved.

Excitable anticipation of today’s “Face-Sitting Demo” has been flying around Westminster all week. Journalists were enthusiastic about a fun Friday afternoon writing colourful copy about porn industry insiders and fetish fans carrying out a particularly demonstrative demonstration against new porn laws. With face-sitting.

The anger, in case you’ve missed this particular incident of government tomfoolery, is due to the arbitrary, and sexist, nature of new regulations some civil servants and politicians have cooked up for the UK’s porn industry. The regulations ban showing female ejaculation on screen, restrict things like fisting and face-sitting, and only allow for “gentle” spanking, whipping and caning.

Jolly protesters held humorous banners (“We cum in peace”, “Life will be fine if we both 69”, etc) and sang a jaunty face-sitting-themed song to keep morale up during the uncomfortably cold, and sparsely attended, demo. Here’s the first verse:

Sit on my face and tell me that you love me,

I’ll sit on your face and tell you I love you too,

I love to hear you oralise,

When I’m between your thighs,

You blow me away.

However, something didn’t feel quite right with what should have been a sharp, witty and necessary protest. A huge throng of mainly male cameramen and reporters in their anoraks and scarves surrounded a small number of demonstrators, who were mainly women, as they engaged in the kinky protest. And there were far more journalists covering the demo than there were people demonstrating.

The irony of this was made all too clear when one woman sitting on another woman’s face was told by a cantankerous cameraman to “move backwards a bit, because I can’t see her face”. “That’s kind of the point, mate, it’s face-sitting,” said an incredulous woman standing next to me. “It doesn’t work visually,” he replied, looking disappointed. “Is this what it’s supposed to look like?”

How ironic that the protest itself reminded us of the shortcomings of the porn industry.  For too long, it has been geared towards men, and just as it is slowly making progress on this issue, the government has dived in with a raft of measures blocking women's opportunity to be seen as active participants, or enjoying themselves.

The irony of women performing for a crowd of male onlookers with cameras issuing instructions to them was not lost on some of the female protesters I spoke to.

“I wanted to turn the cameras round from us on to the cameramen,” a woman with dreadlocks holding a whip tells me. She describes herself as being “on the fetish scene”. “There are a lot of men journalists standing around looking very happy,” she sighs, shaking her head.

Another woman in a long leather black coat adds, “I wonder how many photos they are taking for their newspapers and for their own personal wank bank? Is it really work-related? PUT YOUR HAND UP IF YOU’RE AN OFFICIAL CAMERAMAN OR IF IT’S FOR YOUR BANK!”

I speak to a woman wearing a red rubber ball gag around her neck about her disappointment with the protest. “There aren’t as many people here as I would have hoped.” She tells me “it’s ironic” that the event has turned into men watching the protesters and telling them to perform for their cameras, and finds their gaze “offensive”.

“Pornography has always been aimed at men: bang, bang, bang, done," she says. "Cum shot. Over the last decade, this has been worked on and is better than it has ever been. These laws are taking us all the way back.”

And is coverage like today's helping it?

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Leader: Theresa May and the resurgence of the state

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years.

Theresa May entered office in more tumultuous circumstances than any other prime minister since 1945. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a remarkable rebuke to the political and business establishment and an outcome for which few had prepared. Mrs May recognised that the result was more than a revolt against Brussels. It reflected a deeper alienation and discontent. Britain’s inequalities of wealth and opportunity, its regional imbalances and its distrusted political class all contributed to the Remain campaign’s ­defeat. As she said in her speech in Birmingham on 11 July: “Make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change.”

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was caught out. His optimistic, liberal Conservative vision, predicated on permanent economic growth, was ill-suited to recession and his embrace of austerity tainted his “modernising” project. From that moment, the purpose of his premiership was never clear. At times, austerity was presented as an act of pragmatic bookkeeping; at others, as a quest to shrink the state permanently.

By contrast, although Mrs May cautiously supported Remain, the Leave vote reinforced, rather than contradicted, her world-view. As long ago as March 2013, in the speech that signalled her leadership ambitions, she spoke of the need to confront “vested interests in the private sector” and embrace “a more strategic role” for the state. Mrs May has long insisted on the need to limit free movement of people within the ­European Union, and anticipated the causes of the Leave vote. The referendum result made the national reckoning that she had desired inevitable.

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years. She has promised worker representation on company boards, binding shareholder votes on executive pay, improved corporate governance and stricter controls on foreign takeovers.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has set the ­Labour Party on a similar course, stating in his conference speech that the “winds of globalisation” are “blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention”. He pointedly criticised governments which did not try to save their domestic steel industries as China dumped cheap steel on to global markets.

We welcome this new mood in politics. As John Gray wrote in our “New Times” special issue last week, by reasserting the role of the state as the final guarantor of social ­cohesion, Mrs May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”.

The Prime Minister has avoided the hyperactive style of many new leaders, but she has deviated from David Cameron’s agenda in several crucial respects. The target of a national Budget surplus by 2020 was rightly jettisoned (although Mrs May has emphasised her commitment to “living within our means”). Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will be the first test of the government’s ­fiscal boldness. Historically low borrowing costs have strengthened the pre-existing case for infrastructure investment to support growth and spread prosperity.

The greatest political ­challenge facing Mrs May is to manage the divisions within her party. She and her government must maintain adequate access to the European single market, while also gaining meaningful control of immigration. Her statist economic leanings are already being resisted by the free-market fundamentalists on her benches. Like all prime ministers, Mrs May must balance the desire for clarity with the need for unity.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has repeatedly stated, underlining her commitment to end the UK’s 43-year European
affair. If Mrs May is to be a successful and even transformative prime minister, she must also prove that “serious change” means serious change and a determination to create a society that does not only benefit the fortunate few. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories