London Labour Party at Brighton

Labour Party

 LondonLabour 039Wonderfully sunny weather in Brighton – surely a good omen for Labour’s future!

Having met the Southwark cyclists as they arrived yesterday, I went on to the London Labour Party reception, as lively an event as ever.

I was particularly pleased to be able to talk to Guy Nicholson, Cabinet member on Hackney Council for Regeneration and the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games, about Socialist MEPs coming to London.  We discussed visiting the Olympic site  and also doing work on the Cultural Olympiad.  GLA Member John Biggs will also be involved in this, as will John Fahy, Greenwich Cabinet Member for Culture and Olympics.

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Also good to see former London Labour Party General Secretary Terry Ashton and talk to Alison Moore, PPC for Finchley and Golders Green and GLA Member Joanne McCartney.

Following a speech by Deputy Leader Harriet Harman,  the highlight of the evening was, of course, the Prime Minister.  He was on form and received both a rousing welcome and an enthusiastic ovation – all set for a fourth term.

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Demand Change on Trafficking of Women

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Sonny Leong (pictured) Chair of Chinese for Labour has kindly invited me to write an article on women and trafficking for the September issue of The Orient, Chinese for Labour’s magazine. Here it is:

Whilst I am a strong supporter of the Olympics, and the opportunities it is offering the vibrant capital that I call home, I am deeply concerned that the 2012 Games will spark a steep rise in the capital’s sex trade. Over 30,000 construction workers are set to work on the site over the next three years, and when added together with spectators and athletes, this could a fuel a sex-trade time bomb. 

During the Athens Games, sex trafficking almost doubled and there were reports of sex attacks in the athletes’ village in Sydney in 2000. In the UK, a small increase in the number of trafficked women working in the five Olympic host boroughs was recently reported by the BBC. Fortunately it seems that the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) has made an about turn on previous statements and now shares these concerns. A report published by the MPA in mid-July this year warned that an increase in prostitution and trafficking linked to the Games could put women at risk.

Previously, when I have approached the police and London borough councils on these issues, they have backed away from making any link between sex crimes and sporting events. Even when I used figures showing dramatic increases in the trafficking of women ahead of the Swiss Euro 2008, Liberal Democrat Councillor Terry Stacy, Islington council’s executive member for community safety, said:

 “Levels of prostitution in Islington have significantly fallen in the last two years and the area around King’s Cross has improved. But we know there is still work to be done.”

Her refusal to acknowledge any extra burden on councils in tackling trafficking and prostitution in the lead up to and duration of the Games, shows just how out of touch most councillors are with this problem. 

Where large groups of men have congregated together away from home, there has always tended to be an increase in prostitution. History is laden with evidence to verify this correlation: from wars in Roman times, and the First and Second World Wars and Vietnam War, to stag parties and testosterone-driven companies’ business trips. The question is why should large sporting events be any different? The psycho-social reasons why men pay for sex; a strange environment; hyper-masculine environment; being inebriated and overseas: these all apply to sporting events. Especially football. At a Demand Change! event, hosted by anti-prostitution groups OBJECT! and Eaves Housing, Professor Roger Matthews from London South Bank University spoke of his findings that the vast majority of prostitution business in this country is from men “experimenting” and “trying it out just the one time”. He found that business for prostitutes from regular users makes up just 10 per cent of the UK’s sex trade. 

Such findings show that the atmosphere created by one off events, such as the Olympics, are highly conducive to a rise in “experimental” behaviour. Traffickers know that amidst the hubbub and excitement of the Games there will be an increase in demand for sexual services and they will do all they can to meet this demand. For this reason, London borough councils and the police must show absolutely no tolerance towards prostitution within London. This is the only chance the authorities have of lowering the market for trafficked women and preventing traffickers from establishing themselves in the capital ahead of the Games. But unfortunatelcfl 003y the police are just not getting this.

At the beginning of this year The Evening Standard reported that Commander Allan Gibson, of the Metropolitan Police force, told a Commons’ Home Affairs Committee that his force knew rapidly when sex was being sold and could devote “a lot more” of its resources to tackling the problem, but chose not to do so. According to the paper, Mr Gibson, the officer in charge of the force’s human trafficking unit, said the Met insisted it is determined to stamp out serious criminality connected to brothels, such as people-trafficking. But this entirely misses the point. A green light to prostitution is a green light to trafficking; where prostitution has been legalised, such as in Germany and the Netherlands, trafficking has risen exponentially to meet the demand. As explained by Gunilla Ekberg, from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) at the same OBJECT! meeting this summer,

“Countries like Germany and the Netherlands  have concluded that they have made a gigantic mistake. They both agree that the way to go is to criminalise the demand.” 

We have had some pretty tense debates around prostitution and trafficking in the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights Committee, even amongst the Socialist group, where we can usually agree! The European Parliament cannot legislate on selling sex, hence why member states’ legislation on this issue varies so widely.  

One statement we all stand behind is The European action plan to fight trafficking of women (2005), and all of us in the Socialist group are fighting for this to be given more priority by our member states. This plan involves implementing national and international hotlines for victims of trafficking across member states and ensuring that victims of trafficking are supported, instead of being immediately sent back to their country of origin by authorities. Other than Euro politicians supporting European recommendations to tackle trafficking, it is largely up to the UK Parliament, and at the moment the Lords, to take a stand on the commercial sexual exploitation of women and to deal with its far-reaching human rights implications. This Bill is a real opportunity to make progress on reducing exploitation of women by addressing the demand factor. Across Europe, this has proven to be the only way to put an end to trafficking. In Sweden, where paying or offering to pay for sexual services, on or off the street, is a criminal offence, instances of trafficking are the lowest in Europe. A law such as this is urgently needed in the UK, but unfortunately the government has been reluctant to do it as surveys have shown that public attitudes are against such legislation. So until attitudes change, which the Demand Change! Campaign is fighting to do, the Policing and Crime Bill’s first tentative steps towards punishing any person who buys sex from a trafficked person, whether they do it knowingly or not, is the best hope that we have got.

I urge you to support this Bill in whatever way you can and keep track, or get involved in the Demand Change! Campaign here

Culture and Education Committee´s programme of work

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Yesterday morning I had one of my regular meetings with the British Culture Trade Unions. With hindsight picking the Monday of TUC Conference was not the best choice. This resulted in the poorest attendance for some time. As the new Socialist and Democrats (S&D) Coordinator for Culture  I have suggested that the Culture group makes a trip to London.  I think it would be very interesting and useful for the S&D culture group to meet with Tessa Jowell, Minister for the Olympics, and tour the new Olympic Stadium site.  Sport is an important part of the remit of the Culture and Education Committee and I will be working closely with my colleagues over the coming parliamentary session to think of new ways of promoting sport across Europe.  This, I hope, will be the first of many interesting and useful trips that I can help to arrange in my new role as Coordinator.

The first major piece of legislation going through the Culture and Education Committee is a report proposed by the Commission dealing with the European Year of Volunteering 2011.  Volunteering is an important part of our civil society and plays a key role in many sectors of society; from culture and sport, through to humanitarian aid.  The European Year will seek to support Member States, local and regional authorities and civil society to create the conditions conducive to volunteering.  

The Culture and Education Committee has a full schedule over the coming year with many interesting issues being raised and a number of important reports.  Amongst other things, there will be a legislative opinion on sexual abuse and child pornography (an area of particular interest to me), a report on the setting up of a European digital library for important government documents, and another opinion on internet governance (again an area I follow).  On top of that, there is a Green Paper scheduled for January 2010 on the creative industries. I am enjoying my new role and will be reporting on this work as it progresses.


Ian Dale, Olympics, prostitution

Okay, amidst some heated discussion and re-checking of facts, I now wish to revise the figure of one million construction workers that I put out last week. As it is wrong.


A cartoon borrowed from a far more famous female politician

I misread the the information given to me by a charity, which I published on Sunday, partly as the press release was written in India where the commas are placed differently to the UK. The figure ‘1,00,000’ or 100,000 in UK terms was quoted by the Press Trust of India last year and widely used by AIDS and sexual health pressure groups as the number of construction workers due to work on the London 2012 Olympic sites over the next four years.

However, since Ian Dale’s blog I have called around these original sources (taking rather a long time to track down where the Indian Press Agency got their numbers from) and got a number of different figures.

Following these discussions, I now take the view that the Olympic Delivery Authority is the most informed body on this figure. Well, they are the company that is dishing out the contracts! Their figure is a far more conservative 30,000 construction workers over the next four years.

So yes, Ian, I didn’t get my facts right. Something I will be more careful about in future. As is the quicky nature of a blog,  I don’t perhaps check my figures as strenously as I would a comment piece for a paper. And I actually appreciate being pulled up on it by a wide community of interested readers when I don’t. So thank you and that’s 30,000 not one million. Still, rather a big number….


Labour Party

I too would like to take up Iain Dale’s suggestion and share my memories of 7/7.  It’s unusual to know exactly where you were at a given time, but we all remember the wheres and whens on that terrible day.

I was, in fact, in Strasbourg at a plenary session of the European Parliament from 4 July until the afternoon of 7 July 2005.  The drama had been high the day before the bombings as London had won the Olympic bid, news of which came through during our voting session.  The Brits, and especilally the London Labour MEPs, showed our huge delight by jumping up and down in the Chamber, much to the chagrin of the defeated French.  6 July was, indeed, a red letter day, and I still have a press cutting of London’s victory on my office wall.

Yet it all changed so rapidly.  We knew about the bombings as soon as they took place and remained glued to the television for the rest of the day.  It was especially poingnant, not to say worrying, for me as I live in Bloomsbury not far from Tavistock Square.

The next question was, inevitably, will British MEPs, especially those from London, be able to get home?  The Air France flight to Gatwick on which I was booked did in fact make it on time and the Gatwick Express was running to Victoria where I pitched up at about nine o’clock at night.  Amazingly there were taxis so I gratefully got into one.  The cabbie dropped me at the British Museum as he couldn’t get any further as the roads around my flat were cordoned off.  It was the absolute silence which hit me as I got out of the cab, and will remain with me for ever.  Great Russell street was completely deserted, not a soul in sight, a thriving hub turned into a ghost town.

I walked the short distance home behind the police tapes which marked off the site of the Tavistock Square bombing.  For the first and only time in my life I had some inkling of what it’s  like to be a victim of terrorism, albeit from a safe distance and after the event.