Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. Photo:Getty Images
Show Hide image

What to look out for in the Queen's Speech

Repealing the Human Rights Act is already out, but what might be in?

Today's Queen's Speech isn't the one that Downing Street expected. Senior Conservatives thought they would be back in office, yes, but in either a second coalition or another, looser, arrangement with Britain's smaller parties. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood on a manifesto that was coalition-ready, but unlike the Liberal Democrats, who carved out small policy areas they could wheedle from the Conservatives or Labour, the Tories started big, expecting to be negotiated down by the Liberal Democrats.

Now they have to find a way to climb down themselves without losing face. Repealing the Human Rights Act may get a namecheck in the speech but will not form part of the parliamentary timetable. With Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats all opposed, just six wavering Tories could defeat the measure, and there are certainly more than six Conservative MPs with concerns about leaving the European Court of Human Rights. That battle aside, what else is there to expect in the Queen's Speech?

In, Out, Shake It All About

With a majority secured, David Cameron can proceeded with his plans for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. Labour's U-Turn - the party, which opposed a referendum in the election, will now support the passage of a Referendum Bill through the Commons - isn't quite as pointless as it sounds. The Bill still has to pass through both Houses of Parliament, and without Labour support that could get tricky, as various amendments - whether turnout has to clear a certain threshold, whether the vote has to be carried in all the constituent kingdoms of the UK, who votes, what the exact question - get tacked on and voted on. Labour support means that there will definitely be a Referendum Bill at the end of the day - although it also emboldens Conservative rebels to ask for more, knowing that the referendum itself is now safely in the bag.

Are You There, GCHQ? It's Me, Margaret

The so-called "snoopers charter" is back. The Data and Communications Bill is contentious - you can read Caroline Lucas' argument against it here - the libertarian wing of the Conservative party will vote against but there will be more than enough authoritarians on the Labour benches to make its passage a formality.

Read My Lips: No New Taxes

The Tories will proceed with their plans to link the income tax threshold with the minimum wage and to outlaw any rises in income tax, valued added tax or national insurance for the next five years. Quite what they will do if at some point in the next five years, Greece defaults or a major bank gets into difficulty is, at time of writing, unclear.

They'll Take Our Seats, But We'll Never Devolve Their Freedom

A Scotland Bill will carry through the Smith Commission's plans to devolve further powers to the Scottish parliament. Against the wishes of some in his own party - and in Labour - David Cameron will not call Nicola Sturgeon's bluff and offer full fiscal autonomy, at least not yet.

Suffer The Little Children

Childcare is one to watch. Having spent most of the short campaign saying that 15 hours was fine, thank you very much, and that Labour's plan for 25 hours of free childcare was simply excessive, the Conservatives decided they were losing the fight - "it becomes a numbers game you can only lose" in the words of one MP - and went for 30 hours. It's not clear how this will be paid for, particularly in light of the party's deficit reduction timetable and the pledge not to raise taxes. 

Right To Buy 2: Straight To Video

The Conservative pledge to allow tenants to buy housing associations is one to watch. It's difficult to work out how you would draft this law without scooping in individual private landlords as well. Oh, and if it does pass, expect a court battle. It will, apparently, be in the Queen's Speech though. How the government gets out of this hole is, again, one to watch.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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?