Sunday, 9 November 2008

1984 - my response

If you really want to convince people of the merit of your libertarian views, can I suggest that you might have a little more success if you drop the abuse and the pathetic attempts at intimidation? Or don't you have confidence in your arguments?

My reply is mostly going to be about prostitution because that's the reason why I thought the letter from the UKLP worthy of comment. (Incidentally, Bofl, who said this: "To kerry! How old are you? What on earth has 1984 got to do with prostitution in Bristol? This is a typical childish reaction from an immature politician.Any time somebody says something or does something that you do not like then you change the subject and say something straight from the playground." I suggest you go back and re-read my original post. And then ask someone smarter if you still don't understand).

For the record, I first read 1984 when I was about 13, and have re-read it since. Dostoevsky makes a similar point much better in The Devils (and yes, I know it was written many decades before Stalin came to power but it's a stunningly accurate prediction of how some of the ideas around in Russia then could be twisted to justify totalitarianism).

So - prostitution. As I have said on several occasions recently, I don't have much of a problem with consenting adults transacting sex behind closed doors. I do have a problem with:

a) On-street prostitution in residential areas, including soliciting outside schools, sex/ drugs litter in children's play areas, used condoms being thrown into people's gardens, residents being harassed by sex-workers and kerb-crawlers;

b) Drug addicts having to turn to prostitution to feed their habits, and being exploited, abused, raped - 95% of street sex workers are addicted to crack or heroin;

c) Sex-trafficking.

In east Bristol the main problem - or certainly the most visible problem - is on-street prostitution. And let's knock completely on the head the idea that these women are in any way exercising free will. They hate what they're doing, and they wouldn't do it if they weren't on drugs. How would you feel if your sisters, your mothers, your partners, your female friends chose to do it? Would you just shrug and say, 'it's their choice?' Sometimes of course they are coerced into it by a pimp or, more commonly, a dodgy drug-addict boyfriend; again, they're not exercising free will. I met a woman in the Commons the other day who had been transacted out within her family and their friends for sex since the age of 5. She had been through the whole gamut: raped, imprisoned, addicted, friends murdered... She was intelligent and articulate, but it had taken her until her mid-30s to break free.

I've been out on patrol several times with local police in the parts of Bristol where prostitution is a problem (St. Pauls, Easton, Fishponds Road). I have also had long discussions with police officers, the One25 Project, the Vice Liaison Officer, etc, and organised a public meeting with a Home Office Minister so local residents could tell him just what they were having to put up with. I've met sex-workers and kerb-crawlers. So any views I might express on this issue are based on what you might call 'research'.

Someone complained that the All-Party Group on Prostitution and the Sex Trade seems to have made up its mind before it begins its ‘investigation’. It has been set up with a particular purpose in mind, to work with the Home Office on measures to reduce prostitution. That’s what APPGS are, they’re not Select Committees, which conduct investigations and reach conclusions at the end. So, for example, I set up the APPG on Somaliland to campaign for recognition of Somaliland as an independent state, not to consider whether recognition was warranted (I’d already concluded that it was), and I set up the APPG on Credit Unions to liaise with the Government over new credit union legislation. (I am tempted to digress here into a discussion of the remit of the APPG on Cheese and whether it should really be operating from the starting premise that cheese is a good thing… but I suspect I’ve got the wrong audience on this occasion).

If someone wants to set up an APPG for the legalisation of prostitution or drugs or whatever, they’re entirely free to do so. But that’s not the purpose of this particular group. I don’t have fixed views as to the changes in law we need and I am completely realistic as to the prospects of ever eliminating prostitution, but if we can prevent girls, women and young men from being caught up in that sordid world, then I believe we should.

My reference to BMW drivers stems directly from my trips out with the vice squad. I’ve seen BMWs, a Mercedes, 4-wheel drives…. These are men on their way home from work or the pub, taking a detour before they go home to their wives. They’re usually white men, and they’re often in company cars (so the police, who get their numbers and notify their bosses, tell me). So whoever it was who referred to the only BMWs in St Pauls being driven by black criminals (I paraphrase) - you're wrong.The police have had some success. They’ve virtually eliminated daylight soliciting outside schools, and the number of women working the streets has gone down from c.300 to c.100.

You say I/ the Government should be doing more. So what do you suggest?

* The police’s main tool is anti-social behaviour legislation – but don’t approve of that do you? Or the tougher laws that are being considered now.

* The police have told me they’d be helped enormously by having a CCTV camera with number plate recognition installed along Fishponds Road – but you don’t approve of that either, do you?

* When prostitutes are attacked by violent clients, the DNA database could help identify their attackers – but you’re against that too….

I’ve lobbied, successfully, for more drugs treatment funding for Bristol, as we’ve historically been under-funded. And I’m currently lobbying for more vice squad officers to be deployed, as well as CCTV. I’m confident that in doing so I represent the views of the vast majority of my constituents living in affected areas; I sent out a survey, and got some very good feedback; I've been out campaigning in the area, talking to residents; and the meeting with the Home Office Minister was packed. (Person from Sheffield - how about contacting your own MPs to discuss these issues? I'm sure they'd be happy to meet you).

On the more general issue of libertarianism. I just don’t agree with the people who have posted on here. It’s a fundamental philosophical difference. I think the State has a significant role to play in tackling some of the serious problems facing this country, whether it be our security, crime, public health, the economy… I don’t think ‘freedom’ is sacrosanct if by that you mean the freedom to oppress, exploit, abuse, harm others. I think it’s the role of Government to protect people from oppression, exploitation, abuse and harm. I could point you to several other George Orwell books that make this case better than I ever could.

As for spending a few days in Miami for the US election campaign… I’ve already made clear on here that I paid for it myself. Taking an interest in overseas politics is part of my job. If you look at the main issues my constituents write to me about – climate change, energy policy, international development, foreign policy – I think you’ll find they were pretty keen to see Obama elected too!

I missed three days in Parliament; try looking on theyworkforyou to see how that compares with other MPs’ attendance. I was in the office every night till 10pm the week before I went away, kept in touch with staff while I was there, and after flying back through the night without sleep on Thursday I went into the constituency office to sign my post, deal with emails and then attend a meeting that went on till 9pm. (During the ten week summer recess by the way, I took one week, and one weekend off).

Today is Sunday… So far I’ve been at the Remembrance Day ceremony in Bristol, met a couple of Labour activists for lunch to discuss some future events, made the three hour journey from home to London as I’ve got an early start tomorrow (and worked on the train), replied to comments on this blog… Next I’m going to look at my emails. Tomorrow I will be in Parliament till 11pm or so; Tuesday, ditto. So I’m not prepared to take any criticism from ignorant people on here as to how much effort I put into this job.

Final two points – if you don’t like what this Government is doing, there will be an election in the next 18 months or so, and you can vote against us (without waiting in line in the pouring rain for up to 10 hours, as they had to in Florida). And Old Holborn, you’re just a vile racist and that’s why I’m not replying to you.

Final, final point - I've got work to do this evening, and I don't want to be distracted/ stressed out by nasty comments coming through. So I've disabled comments. I think I've given you more than enough by way of a response, and don't intend to continue the conversation.