By Lisa-Jane Green
In Britain we are seeing the increasing ‘Americanisation’ of anti-choice tactics, with groups such as Abort67 (named after the year the Abortion Act was introduced and women in Britain were able to access safe, legal abortions) and 40 Days for Life are picketing and praying outside abortion clinics displaying provocative images and boasting about the women they turned away on their blogs. They are choosing to focus on women – often extremely vulnerable women – at clinics rather than involve themselves in evidence-based discussions in the media or in Parliament.
First published: February 1998 Tony Blair’s honeymoon came to an abrupt public end with the vote of 47 Labour MPs and the abstention of many others against the government’s proposals to abolish single parent benefits. The government’s attacks on the living standards of the poorest women and children in the country not only provoked a parliamentary rebellion unprecedented so early in the parliament, but also a public outcry which signalled a clear turning point in the Labour government’s popularity. The impact of the campaign to save lone parent benefits and the unexpectedly big revolt of MPs means that, while Blair plans to proceed with attacks on disability benefits, pensions and other pillars of the welfare state, he will face still more determined opposition.The unfolding of events in the weeks leading up to the vote on 10 December demonstrated two key points: firstly, the importance of the Labour left taking a clear campaigning stand against such anti-woman, anti-working class and deeply unpopular policies; secondly, the crucial role played by a campaign led by women – the Save Lone Parent Benefit campaign – and orientated to linking up with parliamentary and labour movement opposition. This was particularly important in the context of the failure of the majority of Labour’s new women MPs to represent women’s interests – and the divisive use to which this was put by the government.
First published: February 1998 Only eight Labour women MPs voted against the attacks on lone parent benefits, with a handful of others conspicuously abstaining. Despite more than 90 MPs signing the parliamentary motion against the proposals tabled by Audrey Wise MP, outbursts of anger at meetings of the PLP addressed by Harriet Harman, protests and vocal opposition from women Labour Party members and lone parent organisations – even Glenys Kinnock MEP added her name to a petition and letter against the proposals – the new batch of Labour women MPs were largely noticeable by their absence. Of 97 MPs who, by 2 December, had signed Audrey Wise's Early Day Motion, only 9 were Labour women, and of these only 2 were from the batch of women MPs elected for the first time in May 1997.
There is no clearer test that these women MPs could have failed than this one, involving the fate of the poorest women, and children, in society. Ninety per cent of lone parent families are headed by women. The proposals will have a racist impact, since black women are disproportionately represented as lone mothers. Removal of lone parent benefits will thus also deepen the disproportionate representation of black women and children among the poorest in society.
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