Labour’s swing to puritanism

Since the departure of Blair the most noticeable change in the nature of policy statements and proposals have been on the classic battlegrounds of social liberalism versus social conservatism.

First we had the U-turn on Super Casinos. Then we had the proposals to re-reclassify Cannabis. We now have a suggestion to reverse the liberalisation of the licensing laws including pub opening times. This was followed by suggestions that the Police should be scouring the pubs trying to find drunks. There is the proposal to criminalise bar staff with hefty fines for serving drunken people. We have a criminal justice bill that includes very poorly thought out proposals to ban ‘violent porn’ that include provisions that would effectively criminalise perceived immoral thoughts. You can be in possession of a film that has been passed by the Classification Board but if you view it ‘principally for sexual gratification’ you are committing an offence. And now there is a suggestion by Harriet Harman to make it illegal to pay for sex.

In Brown and Harman we have a nightmare combination – the traditional religious puritan tendencies of Brown and Harriet Harman’s political correctness gone mad. And what makes matters worse is that both have very strong state interventionist tendencies.

It is never easy to campaign on some of these issues – it is too easy for our opponents to label us as the party ‘that supports drugs, pornography and prostitution’. But campaign on these issues we must. In the case of the prostitution laws it is already illegal to solicit, kerb crawl, traffic humans, run a brothel, employ illegal immigrants and have sex with minors. This new law is not required.

What this new proposal would do is criminalise anyone for paying for sex. Logically this should extend to payment in kind and gifts. Presumably this means that if a woman tried to persuade her boyfriend to buy her a nice present and with a wink of the eye promises to ‘give him his present later’ the man could be thrown in jail if he accepts. I know married couples whose sex lives operate on such a basis.

Like any humane and sensible person I abhor coercion and exploitation but all employment involves you doing something for someone else that you are only doing because they give you some money – how many workers would do their job for free? Would you?

If an adult freely chooses to make money by offering sexual services should the state stop them, or the person seeking the sex?. Given the choice of earning £250 a week for working in a shop or office for 40 hours or earning £250 by having sex 2 or 3 times a week some women will very happily choose the latter and will not for one moment regard themselves as being exploited.

One final point – the view that all prostitution is ‘immoral’ says that it is OK to use any part of your body or mind to earn money except your sexual organs. This is not a consistent morality – it is simple prudery. It fits into the category of ‘It’s wrong because it seems disgusting to me’ that no rationalist or liberal can ever accept.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I am interested in the idea that being a social liberal means being in favour of super-casinos, which are one of the worst aspects of unbridled corporate capitalism allied to the corporate state (whcih gets vast taxes from them).

    Tony Greaves

  • Peter Dunphy 23rd Dec '07 - 5:30pm

    8 Tony. I agree there may be other objections to super casinos but I include this here as I suspect the u turn is on account of an objection to gambling in general and a desire to protect us from ourselves rather than on account of your reasons.A social liberal need not support them but social conservatives will oppose.

  • Iain Roberts 23rd Dec '07 - 7:59pm

    On the Today programme, a campaigner against prostitution made the point that over 60% of prostitutes would quit if they could.

    A fair point, but I wonder what percentage of factory workers or cleaners would say the same? Just because lots of people find a job unpleasant and would prefer not to do it, if it wasn’t for the money, doesn’t mean it should be made illegal.

  • You rather lost it with the attempt to deal with the ethics of prostitution at the end, but this Christian – who regards prostitution as a Bad Thing – agrees that it’s not a useful area for the State to be getting involved in.

  • Peter Dunphy 27th Dec '07 - 2:13pm

    20. Bob – yes I thought point may be controversial but the debate should be raised above “Its always happened and you cant stop it, so regulate it” versus “Just because it has always happened doesn’t make it right”. The starting point for a liberal should be that anyone who wants to ban it because it is a ‘bad thing’ needs to do 2 things – firstly argue why this view should be imposed on others (and you seem to accept this) but also argue why it is intrinsically a bad thing (and for me “because God says so” just doesn’t do it). The ‘badness’ about it seems to usually consist of a list of problems sometimes associated with it. Its rather like saying ban all cars as you will then deal with speeding, congestion, pollution etc.

  • Mike Falchikov 12th May '08 - 12:49pm

    Coming to this discussion a bit late in the day, but noticed that one of the Scottish Sundays this week carried a story about the idea of a ban on “drinking on public transport” being extended to not having a bar on long-distance trains. I don’t think this has been mooted yet (it wouldn’t
    apply in Scotland) – but if the media float such an idea, it’s sure to appeal to Gordon and Harriet.

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