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PMQs review: Theresa May celebrates survival – but the NHS crisis could haunt her

The Prime Minister confidently dismissed Jeremy Corbyn's warning that the health service could endure no further austerity. 

Theresa May used to dream of winning a landslide election victory. At the final PMQs of the year, she was content to celebrate merely remaining Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn, May noted, had not entered No.10 by Christmas (in defiance of his reported prediction). The PM further boasted that she had advanced to Phase Two of the Brexit negotiations (as Labour said she would not).

But though May cut a more confident figure than at any time since the general election ("more, more, more," cried Tory MPs), she would be wise to prepare for worse. As Corbyn noted, 2018 may be the toughest year the NHS has ever endured. Though health leaders warned they needed £4bn simply to "stand still", the government offered  just £1.8bn. May boasted of record NHS funding but an ageing population, higher drugs costs and chronic conditions mean a modest increase is insufficient. 

Last month, Corbyn observed, 50,000 people were left waiting on trolleys and 12,000 in the back of ambulances "because there was no room at the A&E". And the social care crisis, largely ignored by the Conservatives since their ill-fated "dementia tax", is only growing (the subject was not even mentioned in the recent Budget). 

But May caught Corbyn unawares when she asked "Who was it who described Labour's NHS legacy as a mess? It was the Right Honourable Gentleman! When he's running for leader he denounces the Labour party, now he's leader of the Labour party he's trying to praise it." After Corbyn's robust defence of the last Labour government in recent weeks, this was a reminder of how his past criticisms (albeit many justified) can be deployed against him. 

But at Christmas, in particular, Corbyn's peroration (designed for viral videos and the Six O'Clock News) will resonate with voters. "Nurses and other workers, no pay rise for years. NHS targets, not met for years. Staff shortages and GP numbers falling. Mental health budgets have been cut, social care budgets cut, public health budgets cut. The Prime Minister today has shown just how out of touch she is. The truth is our NHS is being recklessly put at risk by her government."

After the longest period of austerity in the NHS's history, the health service will be content to avoid disaster in 2018. May, one suspects, feels much the same way. 

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?