Ukip is an unexpected champion of scrapping the tampon tax. Image: The Period Blog at Wikimedia Commons.
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The campaign to end the "tampon tax" has found itself an unlikely ally in Ukip

"When we leave Europe, we'll be able to remove it, and rest assured we will."

Today, at 2pm, a petition with 198,000 signatories found its way to the Chancellor's desk at No 11, Downing Street. Its cause? To get rid of the luxury VAT tax applied to tampons and sanitary towels across Europe – or, in the words of the petition itself, "stop banning periods".

Support for the move has been widespread. Pieces calling for the tax to be axed have been shared hundreds of thousands of times, while others have unearthed the products that somehow don't fall into the HMRC's "luxury, non-essential" tax category, including flapjacks, exotic meats, bingo, and pitta bread. 

Previous calls for action from central government have fallen on deaf ears. In an interview with the Independent today,  the founder of the Change.org petition, Laura Coryton, suggested this may be because George Osborne is far more likely to eat exotic meats than use a tampon. But there's another reason too: under current EU rules, you cannot cut VAT to 0 per cent on any product which is currently taxed under it. 

This doesn't mean that rule couldn't change: Coryton's plan is to gain UK government support before taking the campaign to the other 27 EU member countries. But this furore around an EU-specific regulation hasn't escaped our favourite eurosceptics, Ukip. Last week, a briefing note was found in Nigel Farage's car that implied the party was in favour of banning the tampon tax, though he hasn't mentioned it in public yet. 

We spoke to the party's deputy chair of policy, Suzanne Evans, who told us:

I can safely say we are committed to getting rid of the tax. When we leave Europe, we'll be able to remove it, and rest assured we will." 

Other parties have been less decisive on the matter. When asked about the issue by a student earlier this month, David Cameron said it would be "very difficult to do but I'll have to go away and have a look and come back to you” (he hasn't). The Labour party hasn't made a statement on it. However, a campaign in 2000 to lower the tax rate on tampons and sanitary towels from 17.5 per cent to 5 per cent (the minimum under UK rules) was led by Labour MP Dawn Primarolo and passed by Gordon Brown, the chancellor at the time. 

Women may want to think twice before voting Ukip on this basis though – other policies include reducing or scrapping maternity pay, while one MEP said she would get rid of the Minister for Women and Equalities.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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Can the disciplined Democrats defeat Trump’s maelstrom of chaos?

The Democratic National Convention has been exquisitely stage-managed and disciplined. But is it enough to overcome Trump’s news-cycle grabbing interventions?

The Democratic National Convention did not begin auspiciously.

The DNC’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was unceremoniously launched as if by an ejector-seat from her job on the eve of the convention, after a Wikileaks dump of internal emails painted a picture of a party trying to keep the insurgent candidate, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, from blocking Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination.

One email, in which a staffer suggests using Sanders’ Jewish faith against him as a candidate in order to slow his insurgent campaign, was particularly damning in its optics and Schultz, who had tweeted with some hubris about her Republican opposite number Reince Priebus during last week’s Republican convention in Cleveland, had to fall on her sword.

Clinton’s pick of Tim Kaine as a running-mate – a solid, safe, and unexciting choice compared to a more vocal and radical campaigner like Elizabeth Warren – was also criticised, both by the media, with one commentator calling him “a mayonnaise sandwich on wholewheat bread”, and by the left of the party, who still held out hope that the Democratic ticket would have at least one name on it who shared the radical vision of America that Sanders had outlined.

On top of that, Kaine, who is a Catholic, also disappointed many as a vice-presidential pick because of his past personal history of opposition to abortion. Erin Matson, the co-director of the reproductive rights group ReproAction, tweeted that Kaine being added to the ticket was “tremendously disappointing”.

On the other side, Donald Trump had just received a poll bump following a terrifying speech which recalled Richard Nixon’s 1968 convention address. Both speeches appealed to fear, rather than hope; many are calling Trump’s keynote his “Midnight in America” speech. Just before the Democrats convened, analyst par excellence Nate Silver and his site, 538.com, forecast Trump’s chance of victory over Clinton in November at above 50 per cent for the first time.

On top of that, Bernie Sanders more vocal supporters arrived at the Democratic convention – in Philadelphia in the grip of a heatwave – in relative force. Protests have already been more intensive than they were at the RNC, despite all expectations to the contrary, and Sanders delegates disrupted proceedings on the first day by booing every mention of Hillary Clinton’s name.

But then, things appear to turn around.

The second day of the convention, which saw Hillary Clinton formally nominated as the first female presidential candidate in American history, was less marred by protest. Bernie Sanders addressed the convention and endorsed his erstwhile rival.

Trump’s inability to stop prodding the news cycle with bizarre non-sequiturs turned the focus of what would otherwise be a negative Democratic news cycle back onto him; an unforced error which led to widespread, if somewhat wild, speculation about his possible links with Putin in the wake of the news that Russia had been behind the email hack and lightened some of the pressure on the Democrats.

And then Michelle Obama took the stage, delivering an oration of astonishing power and grace (seriously, watch it – it’s a masterclass).

Compared with the RNC, the Democratic National Convention has so far been exquisitely stage-managed. Speakers were bookended with pithy, designed-for-virality videos. Speakers started on time; headliners played in primetime.

Both Trump and Clinton have now addressed their conventions before their headline speech remotely, via video link (Trump also engineered a bizarre early-convention pro-wrestling-style entrance), which put observers of both in mind of scenes from V for Vendetta.

But the imagery of Clinton’s face appearing on screen through a graphic of shattering glass (see what she did there?) will likely be one of the moments that sticks most in the memory of the electorate. It must kill the reality TV star to know this, but Clinton’s convention is getting better TV ratings so far than the RNC did.

Michelle Obama’s masterful speech in particular provided stark contrast with that of Melania Trump – an especially biting contrast considering that parts of the latter’s speech last week turned out to have been plagiarised from the former. 538’s forecast saw Clinton slide – barely – back into the lead.

A mayonnaise sandwich Tim Kaine might be, but he is nonetheless looking like a smart pick, too. A popular senator from a key swing state – Virginia – his role on the ticket is not to be a firebrand or an attack-dog, but to help the former secretary of state reach out to the moderate middle that Trump appears to be leaving entirely vacant, including moderate Republicans who may have voted for Mitt Romney but find Trump’s boorish bigotry and casual relationship with the truth offputting. And the electoral mathematics show that Trump’s journey to victory in the electoral college will be extremely difficult if Kaine swings Virginia for Clinton.

Ultimately, the comparison between the Democratic convention in Philadelphia so far and last week’s chaotic, slapdash and at times downright nutty effort in Cleveland provides a key insight into what this election campaign is going to be like: chaos and fear on one side, but tight discipline on the other.

We will find out in November if discipline is enough to stop the maelstrom.

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.