David Cameron at the launch of the Conservatives' European election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tories lead in national poll for first time in two years

A Lord Ashcroft survey puts the Conservatives two points ahead of Labour on 34 per cent.

For the first time since March 2012, just before the omnishambles Budget, the Tories lead in a national poll. The first in a new weekly series by Lord Ashcroft puts them on 34 per cent, two points ahead of Labour, with Ukip on 15 per cent and the Lib Dems on 9 per cent. It is, of course, just one poll, so all the usual caveats apply. But that the Tories have overtaken Labour, after running them close in several surveys, will boost morale among the Conservatives and increase tensions in Labour. 

I expect some on the left will attempt to dismiss the poll on the grounds that it was conducted by a Tory peer and former deputy chairman of the party. But given the extent to which Labour has cited Ashcroft's research in recent years, this criticism won't hold water. As Ashcroft himself writes: 

"Those who are not familiar with my research may think it is more than a coincidence that a Tory like me should produce the first Conservative lead in a national survey for more than two years. Regular readers, I hope, would point them to my previous polling and commentary, in which I have not shied away from pointing out uncomfortable truths to all parties. Indeed the lamentable practice of “comfort polling” – trying to demonstrate you are doing better than you really are – is one of the things that prompted me to start my own research in the first place."

It's also worth noting that, on a uniform swing, Labour would still win more seats than the Tories, one reason why MPs of all parties are increasingly discussing the possibility that Labour could win the most seats in 2015, while the Tories win the most votes. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?