Emily Thornberry and 24 weeks

8:19 am - May 20th 2008

by Kate Belgrave    

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They’re voting on the 24-week time limit for abortion today: here’s Labour MP Emily Thornberry on the Labour party and the pro-choice lobby’s chances:

Leading Labour pro-choice MP Emily Thornberry is youngish (47), new to the national scene (first elected to parliament in 2005), able to talk a blue streak (she was a criminal lawyer), charismatic, and – at first interview, anyway – refreshingly disinterested in caution.

Truly disinterested, even: she says and does – apparently – anything. She freely describes some Labour colleagues as Neanderthals.

She says that others hold views that she thought died with the 1950s. She takes a worthy – if unusual – pleasure in winding up the myriad police that patrol the Houses of Parliament. Giggling like a fruitcake, she marches us past security and up to the HoP’s terraces (possibly the terraces that Plane Stupid comandeered for their Heathrow-runway protest a month or two back?) and lets us photograph her there, even though the coppers on the terraces twitch when they see the camera and call in a couple of reinforcements.

She is either keen to be shot, or of the refreshing opinion that a future for a Labour politician might just depend on distinguishing oneself from the flinching, centre-ground-hugging nambly-pamblies who are so responsible for the grovelling tone of Labour today.

She’s loyal – particularly to Gordon Brown, out of whom she must scare the living shit. Ditto, no doubt, for moribund pretenders like Charles Clarke, Jack Straw, and Whatisface Miliband – the one whose wide and startled eyes so consistently put one in mind of a fawn that has suddenly felt a finger up its butt.

I’d trade a whole ounce to see Thornberry laying some of her better lines on prissy old turncoats like Harriet Harman and Jacqui Smith: ‘I was a student when [John] Corrie was trying to cut down access to abortion. I come from a generation that used to go on the street shouting “Corrie – Withdraw, like your father should have!’ Brilliant. I can almost feel Harriet pursing her tight little dog’s-bottom mouth.

Still – it is depressing, Thornberry says, to find yourself having to campaign to protect existing abortion legislation in 2008. As we speak, she and I are slumped over the 14 May notices of amendments for this week’s reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill: as most of you will already know, the usual conservative/hysterical suspects are proposing a range of alternatives to the present 24-week time-limit for legal abortion: 12 weeks, 14 weeks, 16, 18, 20 and 22.

Like many on the modern pro-choice scene, Thornberry is a liberaliser: she wants to see better access to legal abortion, and the removal of some of the more stringent aspects of the Abortion Act as it stands – the requirement for two doctors’ signatures for women who want abortions, etc. She’s right to say it is depressing to find the existing Act threatened.

That’s not the only depressing part, though. Some of us find it depressing that the Labour party is now such an ideological shambles that the pro-life drivel being peddled by the likes of Nadine Dorries can compete as a political option.

Thornberry says that Dorries is marginalised and unlikely to have much influence, but she also says that the 24-week limit is seriously threatened this time round in her view – an admission which rather suggests that the fuss the likes of Dorries has generated has given even supposedly liberal MPs pause for thought.

Thornberry says that even MPs she thought of as pro-choice are trying to romance her with compromises on the 24-week limit. For instance: some have tried to tell her that an acceptable pro-choice compromise would be to cut the time limit to 22 weeks, but to liberalise other aspects of abortion law at the same (remove the requirement for two doctors’ signatures, etc).

‘They think that is a pro-choice position,’ Thornberry laughs. ‘People have said [to me] – “you can have compulsory sex education in schools – you can have whatever you want, Emily, but let’s [agree] to cut the time limit back to 22 weeks…”‘ Thus Labour dithers about a woman’s right to choose – a fight it should rise to as a matter of course, and a territory it should so easily make its own.

Thornberry says that I can dream on about Gordon Brown positioning his troops either way: ‘It’s absolutely true that the party hasn’t whipped this… He’s not going to. Get over it. Ha ha ha.’ Probably best not to put your last buck on the Labour left, either: Thornberry says that she sees herself as part of the soft left in Labour, but ‘we are the most disorganised group… it’s hopeless, really. The couple of times when I’ve voted against the government, it’s been with a group of comrades, but we’ve been all over the place.’

Thornberry points out that Labour traditionally has taken a liberal view on abortion rights: one can only hope, then, that when the vote on the time limit is taken this week, this tradition turns out to be one of the few Labour hasn’t abandoned.

Thornberry says that she likes to think that a pro-choice stance (and a rigourous defence of the 24-week limit) can be a vote-winner, even in a marginal seat like her own. ‘Largely, the feedback [from her constituents] is positive… MPs – they don’t want it to be their issue, because it is so divisive… They (MPs) are mostly men. They’re not going to think about abortion, and they are afraid that if they put their head above the parapet, that the Catholic lobby… the Baptist lobby… whatever it is… [they] will lose their seats.’

I say Manure to that. Labour MPs are going to lose their seats regardless. Even a two-week reduction to the legal time limit will be a pro-life, rather than Labour, victory.

Cross posted with photos at hangbitch.com. Was too useless to organise photo uploading here, etc.

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About the author
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: Hangbitching.com and @hangbitch
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Coalition For Choice ,Feminism

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Reader comments

Emily is my local MP and stays in touch on this issue and bothers to respond to her constituents. You should link to some of her terrific debates in the HoP on the issue as an example.

“Labour traditionally has taken a liberal view on abortion rights”

Leaving Nadine aside, so have the Tories. Given this is a free vote I hope that her argument re Labour MPs carries over to the liberal Tories also or we are in trouble.

“They (MPs) are mostly men. They’re not going to think about abortion, and they are afraid that if they put their head above the parapet, that the Catholic lobby… the Baptist lobby… whatever it is… [they] will lose their seats.’”

Yup re the male MPs generally though it was still male MPs who brought the original legislation to bear on case law originally. I don’t think the feminists can claim this and i would rather they did not as it polarises the issue further.

The religious issue you touch on for example. We can thank the American Right for that. The influence they have had over here in recent years has been growing and their tactics brought across. If we do want to fight this properly in the future the last thing you want to do is polarise it further with feminists being the only people involved in applying pressure. That is precisely what they want to happen.The way that has worked out in America has been to the pro choice lobby’s detriment. I do not want to see the American approach to abortion duplicated over here.

“the requirement for two doctors’ signatures for women who want abortions”. That didn’t really feature as an issue for myself or any of the women who have had abortions. So i won’t be a compromise of any sorts that MPs can comsole themselves with. The more pressing issue is the lack of doctors willing to specialise and better access to the abortion pill.

I find myself agreeing, possible for the first time, with Emily Thornberry.

She’s still going to lose her seat though.

No she wont. Labour absolutely crushed the LDems in Islington on May 1st. The LDems and actually came third behind the Tories! in Islington! and the LD council is hated by all and will definetly be booted out in 2010. She will be one of the few Labour MP’s to increse her maj substantially.

London 2008 results – Islington South & Finsbury (new boundaries):
{Excluding postal votes}

Lab – 10,928 (44.60%), C – 8,410 (34.33%), LD – 2,850 (11.63%), Green – 1,210 (4.94%)

Constituency Vote, (North East):
Lab – 8,380 (34.48%), C – 5,727 (23.56%), LD – 4,806 (19.77%), Green – 3,184 (13.10%)

Lab – 7,838 (32.10%), C – 5,453 (22.33%), LD – 3,846 (15.75%), Green – 3,399 (13.92%)

POSTAL VOTES for whole of Islington:

Mayor: Lab – 4,751 (44.91%), C – 3,255 (30.77%), LD – 1,439 (13.60%), Green – 600 (5.67%)

Constituency: Lab – 3,694 (35.31%), C – 2,582 (24.68%), LD – 1,990 (19.02%), Green – 1,420 (13.57%)

List: Lab – 3,395 (32.49%), C – 2,509 (24.01%), LD – 1,612 (15.43%), Green – 1,495 (14.31%)

Islington South & Finsbury represented 49.25% / 49.17% / 49.20% of non-postal Islington votes for the 3 sections respectively.

4. Squirrel Nutkin

Surely Emily Thornberry must have enormously “wide and startled eyes”, what with Kate Belgrave in her entirety being so far up her butt: this kind of hagiography belongs – in style and in content – in Labour News, not on Liberal Conspiracy! I’ve seen aged nuns being more disrespectful of the Virgin Mary than this.

Jeez Squirrel – that’s a tight grab on the nuts, man. That’s the first time I’ve been accused of a love affair with a Labour politician. Usually, people say I’m too harsh and buggering up their chances of re-election.

Criticism from eagle-eyed punters like yoursefl is always useful, but I thought’d I’d helpfully suggest that you to learn to read b4 trying your hand again – the ‘wide and startled eyes’ line was a sarcastic remark about David Miliband, not a luvvy remark about Thornberry. I say in the article above that Miliband has ‘wide and startled eyes’ that put me in mind of a fawn with a finger up its ass. That wasn’t supposed to be a compliment but hey – maybe it is in Squirrel-land. Probably puts you in mind of a good Friday night, eh?

Come back soon.

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