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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn skewers Theresa May on everything from cuts to tuition fees

The Prime Minister dodged questions over falling wages and future job cuts.

 

After more than seven years in government, the Conservatives have provided Labour with no shortage of targets. At today’s PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn took aim at most of them.

The Labour leader began by raising disability benefit cuts (an issue all too rarely discussed in parliament), noting that the UN had described the situation as “a human catastrophe”. Though Theresa May replied that the government had increased the amount of support being given, she was unable to deny that the disabled had been hardest hit by the spending cuts.

From here, Corbyn unsurprisingly segued into public sector pay. As he noted, the pay rises awarded to the police and prison officers are, in fact, wage cuts once inflation (2.9 per cent) is taken into account. When pressed by Corbyn, May notably refused to rule out further job cuts in these sectors. The Labour leader replied with a succinct summary of austerity: "There are 20,000 fewer police officers and 7,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010, 43 per cent of police stations have closed in the last two years alone, police budgets cut by £300m”.

May did, however, boast of the increase in the personal allowance (she rarely noted this Cameron-era policy during the election) and of the record employment figures. But the problem for the Tories is that even in a labour market this tight, real pay is still falling (leading to the longest sustained fall in living standards since the Napoleonic wars).

Corbyn then turned to student debt, rising child poverty (“by the end of this Parliament, five million children in this country, the fifth richest in the world, will be living in poverty”) and homelessness. “Not only is our economy at breaking point, but for many people it's already broken, as they face up to the poverty imposed by this government,” he concluded.

"Who was it who introduced tuition fees? It was the Labour Party!” May replied. But though Labour did indeed introduce fees, it was the coalition government that tripled them from £3,000 to £9,000. In light of this, and Corbyn’s anti-New Labour credentials, it wasn’t the strongest line of attack.

Labour, May warned, “would only destroy our economy as they did last time”. But as the economic harm of Brexit becomes daily more evident, with worse likely to follow, this attack is a diminishing asset. May’s personal flaws aside, her grim inheritance of Brexit and austerity means she is struggling to trump Corbyn at these occasions.

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?