Going Swedish – my article for Progress

Labour Party

On Saturday I wrote an article for Progress Online for International Women’s Day. You can read the article below, or go to the original post by clicking here.

International Women’s Day this year came on the heels of a big few months in the battle to end the ‘oldest profession’. France, Ireland and Northern Ireland have made moves towards changing their prostitution laws in the last year. All three are looking to shift towards the Swedish model, whereby it is the buyer (invariably the man) who is criminalised, with the sale of sex made legal.

Moreover, Germany has appeared for the first time to be willing to re-evaluate legalisation, and the British parliament, which has traditionally had a muddled position, has shown signs of going Swedish. An all-party group on the subject, chaired by Gavin Shuker MP, concluded that current laws ‘prioritise the gratification of punters at the expense of often-vulnerable women and girls’. The current law fails to address the problem of demand, and as a result it sustains the status quo.

The process has been helped along by my own report, recommending the Swedish model, which was passed by the European parliament in February. With countries as far away as Canada weighing up the merits of the Swedish model, it appears a genuine international shift is taking place. At long last governments are taking sustainable and ambitious steps.

For me this process is essential in the effort to bring about a world where women have a genuinely fair crack. With the sex trade overwhelmingly populated by women, the existence of prostitution is an affront to the battle for gender parity. It is a totemic issue; a persistent and uneasy monument of the economic and physical dominance of women by men. As a delegation of nearly 80 academics wrote in an open letter to members of the European parliaments last month:

The prostitution system is a reminder of continuing inequalities between women and men: the gender pay gap; the sexualisation of female bodies in popular culture; the histories of violence and abuse in both childhood and adulthood that underpin many women’s entry into the sex industry.

The alternative to the Swedish model is blanket decriminalisation. This has a degree of support – including from some sex workers’ groups – as a means of regulating the sex industry better. Advocates say it would prevent prostitution being ‘driven underground’ and therefore make it safer.

This claim is undermined somewhat by the case of Germany, perhaps the most controversial example of decriminalisation. Since legalisation there in 2001 there has been an explosion in prostitution levels. So-called ‘super brothels’ now operate on the country’s borders and there are reportedly around 400,000 sex workers (compared to less than 50,000 in neighbouring France). Just 44 of these have registered for benefits, suggesting the supposed ‘regulation’ of the industry is something of a myth. The effect has been simply to ingrain prostitution and normalise the inequalities which sustain it.

I hope that by International Women’s Day 2015 the number of countries to have ‘gone Swedish’ will have increased, and we will be approaching the point of critical mass where the Swedish model can become accepted as the norm. To protect women everywhere we must go beyond sticking plaster solutions and look to root causes.

Ten myths about the European Union

Labour Party

These 10 myths about the European Union were posted on Progress Online by Denis MacShane MP in August this year. Since Denis’ excellent piece didn’t get much coverage at the time, I think it’s worth giving it another airing.

Debunking the myths is, of course, becoming increasingly important as Tory anti-EU mania reaches worrying proportions.

Home Secretary Theresa May is seeking to opt out of 130 Justice and Home Affairs measures only, apparently, to then try and opt back into some of them.

Meanwhile Michael Gove and, seemingly, nine members of the Cabinet want a referendum on the EU.

As someone once said, we live in interesting times. Chaotic may be a better word.

Myth 1

The euro causes mass unemployment So how come unemployment is much lower in Germany, or the Netherlands than in Britain? Spanish unemployment was around 25 per cent well into the 1990s. In fact, the only time unemployment in Spain came below 10 per cent was when the euro replaced the peseta. It is government policy that determines economic success not the EU or the single currency per se.

Myth 2

Youth unemployment has surged under the euro Can anyone in Britain, with one in four 16-24-year-olds without work, make this claim with a straight face? Corrupt, clientalist politics in Spain and Greece have refused reform of the youth labour market to give young people a job but if the euro is responsible should we blame the pound for Britain’s lost generation of school and university leavers?

Myth 3

The EU makes all our laws. Sorry, but the House of Commons researches this every year and can never find more than about seven per cent of UK primary legislation which stems from Brussels. Just think of the rows over legislation in the Commons since 2010 – student fees, tax cuts for millionaires, NHS ‘reform’. Gove’s free schools, attacks on disabled people, five-year parliaments, cuts in local government provision – all these are made-in-Britain laws and have nothing to do with Europe.

Myth 4

The euro was badly designed and Greece should not have entered Agreed. But if Greece is forced out there will be a massive run on banks. It is not the single currency that allowed such lax regulation of banking in recent years. That began in America with Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan who removed all the rules in place since the 1930s to make banks behave responsibly. Britain (I would rather not mention which government) awarded an honorary knighthood to ‘Sir’ Alan Greenspan and his bust still stands in the Treasury. If we worship false gods of greed first we should not be surprised when they destroy us. The dollar is no more responsible for the Greenspan-Rubin tragedy of errors than the euro is for bad policy in the EU.

Myth 5

Devaluation is the way forward. So how come the British economy has been belly-up since the major devaluation of the pound four years ago. The pound lost about 25 per cent of its value against the euro. Did this lead to an export boom? UK balance of trade has never been worse. Belgium exports more to India than Britain. One day perhaps China will allow British exports to get a foothold – maybe when the Chinese have stopped killing British businessmen like Neil Heywood – but all the Commonwealth countries have various forms of protectionism in place – just ask anyone who tries to trade with India.

Myth 6

The EU is run by technocrats with no democratic oversight. Actually all the decisions taken in Europe are approved by democratically elected ministers responsible and accountable to their parliaments and public opinions. Decisions are slow and tortuous and are often so late in becoming policy they may be no longer relevant. The number of EU commissioners should come down from 27 to 10 but will the UK give up having a commissioner? Ask Nick Clegg.

Myth 7

The euro has caused riots and the rise of extremist parties That’s for Nick Griffin and the other BNP MEP to answer. Europe has always had extremist politics hovering at its fringe. The French communist party was xenophobic and supported one of the world’s great tyrannies for decades. Long before the euro existed there were ultra-nationalist and racist politicians elected under PR systems to different national and regional parliaments. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s glory days were when France used the franc. The biggest riots in Europe since the world capitalist crisis began in 2008 happened in London last year. Unlike the riots of Athens which were largely confined to its main square, the London riots spreads across the nation, turned into mass arson and looting with five deaths and huge damage caused. Last time anyone checked, Britain was not using the euro so is the pound to blame for the August 2011 riots? No and it is just as silly to blame the euro for social unrest and extremist political parties.

Myth 8

The EU imposes terrible burdens on British business This whine from the right has been a constant ever since the concept of social Europe was promoted. Tory MPs want to repatriate all rules from Europe that give some modest protection to workers and unions. For the left to act as bag carriers for this attack on social justice is bizarre. In fact, if you look at the nations that are best surviving the current crisis from Finland to Austria they are all based on EU social partnership systems which are anathema to Conservatives. And they all use the euro.

Myth 9

Housing bubbles were caused by the euro Again, it is national governments (including Labour) which did not put in clear rules insisting on minimum deposits and have a solid programme of social house building. Labour allowed 500,000 social housing units to be sold under Thatcher’s right-to-buy legislation. Ireland, Spain and Greece allowed unlimited credit well beyond the repayment capabilities for borrowers. That has nothing to do with the single currency but with bad government policy.

Myth 10

The euro is creating a European super-state. Please. Ten years ago the EU budget was roughly 1.2 per cent of Europe’s collection GDP. It is now down to one per cent. Of that one per cent, 85 per cent is returned to governments to pay for agricultural subsidies and regional investment. A BAP (British Agricultural Policy and payments system) would be more costly than the CAP. The EU gets many things wrong just as all governments do. But with an income of just one per cent of Europe’s total annual income the idea this is a new super-state is just silly propaganda.

About the Speakers at my Fringe Meeting – Alex Smith

Labour Party

Today’s featured speaker at my fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference is Alex Smith, Editor of top Labour blog LabourList. I am very pleased indeed that Alex agreed to speak at my meeting.  As the editor of a blog which takes a wide range of contributions he will have a different perspective from those of us who produce solo efforts.

Alex has written on politics and web campaigning in both Britain and the United States for Progress, Compass, the Fabians and Total Politics magazine Progressive London, the Government Gazette and House Magazine. He has, in addition, spoken at events for organisations including Progressive London, Compass, Progress, Republic, the Fabians and the BBC College of Journalism.

Alex also has international experience, having spent 2007-2008 in the United States, working in New York and volunteering on the Obama campaign in Brooklyn. He later devised and directed the independent, grassroots organisation Drive for Obama.

At home in London Alex is a co-founder of the Latimer Project and a governor at Holloway School.

Alex is currently on sabbatical from LabourList, and is working as Director of Online Communications and Campaigns for Ed Miliband’s campaign for the Labour leadership.

My fringe meeting is on Monday 27 September at 6.00pm at Manchester Central, Charter 1 in the secure zone.  The other speakers are Tom Harris MP, Jessica Asato and Councillor John Gray from the London Borough of Newham.