Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage have differing views on NHS spending. Photo: Getty
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Ukip confusion over the NHS budget as Douglas Carswell supports more spending

The Ukip MP backs a funding boost for the health service, but that's not his party's line.

On the BBC's Daily Politics this afternoon , the Tory-turned-Ukip MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell, backed the idea of increasing spending on the NHS.

He said:

We are going to have to spend more as a society, for the simple reason that people are living longer, technology means that we can spend more, invest more in health. We’re going to have to do it . . . I think we are going to have to increase spending because the fact is that people are living longer, people expect better health care and they are not getting it. And they are going to have to have, I think more of our resources as a country spent on health care.

Carswell also admitted on the programme that he had "got it wrong" by voting in favour of the government's NHS reforms in 2012.

On the surface, Carswell's comments are unsurprising, considering all the other main Westminster parties have made pledges on health spending, and that A&E departments are suffering their worst period in a decade. However, it is telling that the MP's comments do not toe Ukip's party line.

Nigel Farage has in the past called it "ridiculous" to protect the NHS budget from spending cuts. In January last year, he told the Telegraph:

We take the view that the greatest boom in Britain has been the growth in the cost of the public sector. The growth of the public sector has placed a massive cost on this country. We will come up with a plan, a fairly radical plan, about how government spending should be cut.

He said the ringfencing of certain budgets, such as on the NHS, is based on "ridiculous arguments". And he would not support protecting the NHS budget when speaking on BBC News later last year, because, "I want to see us get better value for money". Recently, in an interview on Sky News' Murnaghan programme, he dismissed "all this nonsense about ringfencing" the NHS, saying the service could be "more efficient" and that money can be saved on it, "without any shadow of a doubt".

This is just the latest development in Ukip's protracted confusion over its stance on the health service. Spreading its wings to envelope former Labour supporters, it has had to come up with a more left-friendly stance on health spending, and this new direction has caused key party figures to contradict one another. It is also another instance of Carswell swerving away from the party line, a recent example being his call for Ukip not to tolerate "pejorative comments about people’s heritage" and for the party to start showing it has a "serious internationalist agenda".

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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A rape-able sex robot makes the world more dangerous for women, not less

Eroticising a lack of consent is no answer to male sexual violence. 

On Wednesday, the Independent reported a new setting had been added to the personality range of a sex robot made by the company True Companion. Called “Frigid Farrah”, the setting allows men who own the robot to simulate rape. If you touch it in a “private area” when it is in this mode, the website explains, it will “not be appreciative of your advance”.

True Companion says the robot is not programmed to participate in a rape scenario, and the idea is “pure conjecture”. Nevertheless, the news has reopened the debate about sex robots and their relationship to consent. What does a rape-able robot say about our attitudes to consent, sex, violence and humanism? Do sex robots like Frigid Farrah eroticise and normalise male sexual aggression? Or does allowing men to “act out” these “most private sexual dreams” on inanimate objects actually make real women safer?

The idea that allowing men to “rape” robots could reduce rates of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. Sex robot settings that eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, coupled with male aggression, risk normalising rape. It sends a message to the user that it is sexually fulfilling to violate a woman’s “No”.

It’s important to remember that rape is not a product of sexual desire. Rape is about power and domination – about violating a woman’s body and her sense of self. Raping a robot is of course preferable to raping a woman, but the fact is we need to challenge the attitudes and sense of entitlement that cause violent men to rape in the first place.

There is little evidence to back the claim that giving men sexual “outlets” reduces violence. The research that exists is focused on whether a legalised sex industry can reduce sexual assault.

Studies on Dutch “tippelzones” – spaces where soliciting is legal between certain hours – claimed the areas led to a reduction in sexual violence. However, the research lacked precise data on incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and the fact that sex workers themselves can be victims. As a result, it wasn’t possible to determine exactly how the number of rapes and assaults fell in the population at large.

Similar claims made by social scientist Catherine Hakim also failed to prove a causal link between legalised prostitution and reduced levels of sexual violence – again, because low reporting means a lack of accurate data.

Other research claims that access to the sex industry can in fact increase incidents of sexual violence. A 2013 report by Garner and Elvines for Rape Crisis South London argued that an analysis of existing research found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in non-experimental studies”.

Meanwhile, a 2000 paper by Neil Malamuth, T Addison, and J Koss suggested that, when individuals considered at high risk of acting sexually aggressively are studied, levels of aggression are four times higher among frequent consumers of pornography.

However, just as the research fails to find a causal link between access to the sex industry and reducing violence, there is no research proving a causal link between violent pornography and gender-based violence.

Instead, we have to look at the ethical and moral principles in an industry that creates models of women for men to orgasm into. Sex robots are, at their heart, anti-humanist. They replace women with plastic and holes. They create a world for their owners where women’s voices and demands and desires and pleasures – and right to say no – are absent.

That should trouble us – we are creating products for men which send a message that the best woman is a compliant and silent one. That the best woman is one who lies back and “likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike”, to quote the True Companion website, who is “always ready to talk and play” but whose voice you can turn off whenever you want.

“By transferring one of the great evils of humanity from the real to the artificial, sex robots simply feed the demon of sexism,” says Professor Alan Winfield of the Bristol Robotics Lab. “Some might say, 'What’s the problem – a sex robot is just metal and plastic – where’s the harm?' But a 'fembot' is a sexualised representation of a woman or girl, which not only invites abusive treatment but demands it. A robot cannot give consent – thus only deepening the already chronic and dangerous objectification of real women and girls.”

What research does tell us is that there is a clear link between violence and the perpetrator’s ability to dehumanise their victims. That, and a setting designed to eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, suggest that Frigid Farrah will have no impact on reducing sexual assault. Rather, it creates a space where rape and violence is normalised and accepted.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders at this sexualisation of male violence, we should be taking action to end the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies. That starts by saying that rape is not an inevitable part of our society, and the danger of rape cannot simply be neutralised by a robot.

Sian Norris is a writer. She blogs at sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com and is the Founder & Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She was previously writer-in-residence at Spike Island.