Parliamentary log jam on Brexit legislation

Labour Party

A parliamentary log jam is going to affect the ability for the government to pass important legislation relating to Brexit, according to the Guardian.

Its report revealed today that almost half the legislation required for Parliament to vote on the final Brexit deal has yet to be introduced.

Despite Parliament sitting for 123 days since the last election it has yet to pass a single piece of related legislation. There are only a further 80 days where Parliament will sit before MPs are expected to vote on the final deal scheduled for October this year.

The obvious problem is that Parliament will be asked to vote on a deal which it has little knowledge of because it won’t have approved any of the crucial legislation. It’s completely unacceptable that MPs will be expected to vote on a deal that they do not have the full details of because it won’t have been finalised! It just doesn’t seem feasible to expect Parliament to commit to such a vote which can’t possibly be meaningful since the government has failed to introduce any vital legislation.

Theresa May promised this parliament would be a “busy legislative session” and yet, as the Guardian report points out, just four pieces of legislation have been passed from the Queen’s speech which is half the amount at the same point following the 2010 election.

You can read the Guardian’s full report here.

Northern Ireland remains an obvious sticking point after yesterday’s agreement

Labour Party

While Brexit Secretary, David Davis, grinned like a Cheshire cat following the announcement of yesterday’s agreement with Brussels on the transitional proceedings for Brexit, one fact remained: The uncertainty over Northern Ireland.

Although both sides seemed happy to announce the progress which had been agreed upon, the lack of agreement over the border issues between Northern Ireland and Ireland was the elephant in the room. This is a sticking point which all sides know only too well cannot simply be kicked into the long grass. Any future talks beyond what was agreed yesterday won’t progress unless this issue can be resolved.

Writing about yesterday’s developments, The Guardian’s editorial juxtaposed two significant European meetings which took place yesterday. The first concerned the joint position of EU foreign ministers in the wake of the Skripal poisoning and its editorial said it was: “sensible and constructive”. The second meeting was, concerned the Brexit negotiations and it said it was: “foolish and destructive”. The editorial continued: “Taken together the meetings illustrate the international wound the modern Britain is inflicting on itself and on Europe because of the Brexit vote.”

While some will be relieved that, seemingly, there is some progress, significant issues which cannot be underestimated remain: The question of the border in Northern Ireland is an obvious problem, already discussed above, which was no closer to being resolved. The other problem is the question of Britain being a reliable ally to its European neighbours, which was central to the Guardian’s argument.

As the Guardian pointed out Britain requires support from its allies more so now (after the Skripal poisoning) than it has for a long time. But as we embark on the road to Brexit, the concern turns to how Britain has weakened its own position in terms of its international strategic relationships.

The relationship between allies, by their very nature is dependent on responsibilities and trust which must be shared and the relationships equal, but as the Guardian states: “The principle of all for one and one for all is a reciprocal principle. That’s why Brexit is such a threat not just to Britain itself, but also to Europe’s essential and shared security interests.”

The Equal Pay Scandal: Latest Revelations

Labour Party

As the deadline for the reporting of gender pay inequalities gets closer (4 April) The Guardian has produced a useful tool which follows the latest companies to report its figures. It’s excellent weekly coverage offers an overview of the companies that have reported.

Last week some 2000 companies published its figures leaving 7000 companies yet to report.

The Guardian itself published its own figures which showed a median hourly gap of 12.1%. It’s editorial roles its just 7.4% but for non-editorial roles the gap widens to 17.2%. But the Group is being proactive and pledged to reduce the gap to attain a 50:50 gender pay balance in the top half of the organotin in the next five years. It is also planning to have in place mentoring and women in leadership schemes to help achieve its targets.

Other news groups also published figures. Perhaps the most significant was ITN which had a gender pay gap of 19.6% it was its bonus gap which was most staggering: 77%.

And in other sectors, the “big four” accountancy firms have re polished their results after facing criticism that the figures did not include partners pay, therefore not giving an accurate reflection of the gap.

You can read in more detail the latest Guardian update here.

And while on the subject of the gender pay gap, news has emerged which reveals that Wimbledon champion and Tennis commentator, Martina Navratilova, received 10x less for commentating on Wimbledon than her male counterpart John McEnroe for doing similar work.

The news comes ahead of a broadcast for BBC panorama due to air tonight ‘The Equal Pay Scandal’, and it details how the Corporation had told her she was earning a comparable amount to him, but subsequently found him on a list of BBC earners in the £150,000 – £199,000 bracket after the broadcaster published the figures it pays its top earners.

For commentating on the two-week Wimbledon championship Martina says she receives £15,000 while John McEnroe earns £150,000 for doing the same role. This is a shocking revelation. Surely the BBC will act swiftly to rectify this inexcusable situation? In its defence the BBC says that Martina earns less than John McEnroe because she appears on TV less than him. But as she herself said: “10x less?” Probably not.



Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Scottish Labour Party has elected a new leader, Jim Murphy. The Guardian editorial said he was the most experienced and high profile candidate, this is right but he will also be excellent in the role and will be able to meet any challenges head on.

It is true, he will be very good for Scottish Labour, of that there is no doubt, but as the Guardian editorial pointed out, he also has the best chance of both providing a united front from within the party and galvanising the Labour support across Scotland. Murphy’s role couldn’t begin at a more important period than now, just months away from a general election and I wish him very best wishes in his new role.

You can read the Guardian’s editorial here.

In contrast, Parliamentary chaos threatens to ensue in Sweden following the announcement of a snap general election. The last election in Sweden was just three months ago but the Prime Minister has called another one after failing to get the budget passed in the current government.

Worryingly, the dominance of the far right Swedish Democrats is a distinct possibility. The first exit polls in Sweden revealed that the far-right party was expected to end up being the third largest in the Swedish Parliament.

To give you an idea of what they are about, they refuse to engage or have dialogue with, anyone who doesn’t share their view that immigration needs to be slashed. Furthermore, the party was also founded as a white supremacist group in 1988.

The Guardian had an interesting analysis of the results and explored the possibility of the rise of this far-right group. You can read the analysis in full here.

Meanwhile Iceland’s foreign minister made a powerful call for world leaders to open their hearts to gender equality. The country’s foreign minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said other countries can learn lessons following Iceland’s successful work on combatting sexism. The country’s success is most evident in its first place ranking in a recent global report on gender equality.

Sveinsson’s comments, calling for world leaders to take gender equality more seriously, come ahead of a UN conference he is preparing to host in January.

You can read more on Sveinsson’s comments here.

A Feminist Political Party?

Labour Party

Sexism in politics: This was the subject of a discussion I had last week on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. I was discussing the possibility of a feminist political party, with Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore who had posed the question in the first place.

Moore said that while we have a vibrant feminist movement today, this isn’t reflected in any political structure.

It is true that we have a strong feminist movement in this country which we need to tap into more. However, as I said during the interview I stop short at embracing the idea of a feminist political party because the only way to make any significant change is through the political process.

You can listen to the interview, and my argument,  with myself and Suzanne Moore here.

Labour to Put Women’s Safety at Centre Stage

Labour Party

Women’s safety is at the heart of Labour’s agenda, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, told Jane Martinson in the Guardian as she discussed plans to introduce a watchdog for women’s safety.

If elected Labour will appoint a commissioner to improve women’s safety, promising to “put violence against women and girls at the heart of its crime-tackling agenda,” which would be something akin to the children’s commissioner.

The remit of the watchdog would focus on the traditionally difficult to identify and prosecute crimes such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Cooper said this government has let women down and this is absolutely right.

Signalling she is serious about the proposals Cooper said that a Labour Government would also introduce a violence against women and girls bill in its first Queen’s speech.

I have said before women must feel safe in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously if they report crimes made against them. It’s scandalous that conviction rates remain so low and that still, two women a week are killed by partners or former partners. Announcements like this indicate how a Labour government can really make an impact, precisely because it will take issues like these so seriously and really develop robust ways to address them.

Legislation, institutions, and prostitution

Labour Party

My article for Total Politics magazine on why I favour the “Swedish model”

This month police raided brothels and other sex premises in Soho. The operations, which came in response to sex trafficking and rape allegations, drew to the surface stark contrasts in attitudes towards prostitution. Pro-legalisation campaigners argued that immigrant sex workers in the area were employed safely, but senior officers took the opposite view, photographing the operation so that punters could see the “full story” behind the bohemian mystique of Soho.

As yesterday’s article in The Guardian showed, this is a discussion which is only going to grow over the coming months in the UK. Recently we have seen France vote to fine punters, as well as a growing awareness in Germany that their laissez-faire policies aren’t working. A debate is opening up across Europe, and Britain – which has thus far remained on the fence when it comes to this issue – will soon need to take a clear stance.

The basic choice is between all out legalisation, as practised in Holland and Germany, or the Swedish Model – which decriminalises selling sex but prosecutes buying it. As well as developments in France and Germany, Ireland has also shown signs of shifting the focus onto punters, and the extreme feminist group FEMEN have launched demonstrations against the Dutch system. The tectonic plates appear to be moving.

I am a strong advocate of the Swedish Model, and have written a report recommending it to the European Parliament. It is a system which has halved street prostitution in Sweden and made men significantly less likely to pay for sex. I believe it should be adopted across Europe.

Much of the opposition to the Swedish Model comes from men who want to maintain the status quo, such as those behind the shocking ‘Hands of My Whore’ petition in France. But there are also an articulate minority of female former sex workers who say that being a prostitute is a lifestyle choice. They advocate total decriminalisation, on the basis that selling sex can empower women, and that prostitution gives poorer women access to a ‘market’ they’d otherwise miss out on.

I personally believe that the sale of sex will always be a barrier to genuine equality – a demeaning last resort when people are desperate. Even if sex workers came from a variety of backgrounds – male, female, rich, poor, domestic, foreign – I would have serious reservations about legalisation. But as it is prostitutes are overwhelmingly women. In most cases they are foreign women or women from poorer backgrounds, who have usually been subjected to serious abuse before entering the industry.

Where decriminalisation has happened it has done nothing to change this, and I see no reason to believe it will. As sex trade survivor Rachel Moran puts it, “Prostitution is a crime against humanity. To legalise it is to condone this crime”. She says the real victims of the sex trade want to leave the job but are often ignored – a claim which is corroborated by the fact that, according to a 2003 study, 89% of prostituted women said they would leave the industry if they could.

In fact, with tourism, trafficking and freedom of movement making the sex trade increasingly international, I believe we are moving towards a less equitable state of affairs than ever. In France, for example, 90% of prostituted women are foreign compared with 20% back in 1990. And in Germany prostitutes are now also more likely to be from abroad, with mega-brothels built near border crossings increasing foreign custom. We are entering a new, globalised era of prostitution, in which relationships between buyers and sellers are becoming ever more imbalanced. The Dutch Model’s ‘open market’ approach – which increases trafficking and makes it easier for wealthy westerners to buy sex – will only tilt the power dynamic further in favour of men.

With a study finding that 49% of British men have travelled abroad for sex, and the majority of London’s prostitutes now coming from Romania or Bulgaria, we in the UK must think harder about where we stand. I hope that my work in the European Parliament will add to the groundswell of support for more progressive measures, and that Britain will be persuaded to follow France’s lead and go Swedish.

Discussing prostitution with Clive Bull on LBC

Labour Party

Last night I appeared on LBC’s Clive Bull show. It was a pleasure, as always, to take part in the programme. I thought a lively debate was had, with a wide variety of views.

I believe we need to change our system in the UK, so that we become more like Sweden, where buyers rather than sellers of sex are the ones prosecuted. I am pleased to see LBC – as well as newspapers like The Guardian – engaging with this issue. With a debate opening up across Europe, the British Government – which has thus far remained on the fence when it comes to prostitution law – will soon need to start making its position clear.

To listen please click below.

Trafficked Victims not Being Found – Report Finds

Labour Party

The Met Police have been accused of a heavy handed approach to brothel raids and for failing to find trafficked victims, in a report, Silence on Violence, published by a London Assembly member.

The report was also published in the Guardian which you can read here.

The report criticises the police for failing to find less than 1% of victims despite an injection of £500,000 to help the predicted rise in trafficking in the run up to the Olympics. The Met has subsequently admitted that they have failed to find a rise in trafficking.

Reports like these are extremely important to assists our understanding of this most hideous crime, however it is always important to remember that human trafficking is one of the most hidden crimes and the most difficult to prosecute.

Over the years I have read numerous reports which suggest the problem of prosecuting is not that it is an unusual crime but that the victims are too often afraid to come forward for fear of repercussions.

When the perpetrators are found, to the frustration of prosecutors they are often prosecuted with different crimes than that of trafficking because the victims won’t give evidence. Besides its not straight forward, the type of crime this is means that many other crimes are bound up within it drugs, violence, etc.

The report criticises Both local police officers and the Met’s specialist SCD9 unit, which focuses on human exploitation and organised crime for failing to adopt an intelligence-based approach to trafficking and for looking in the wrong place to find victims.

One of the most significant concerns and this is something which I have been told elsewhere is the particular concern of girls and women trafficked from West Africa, thought to be the largest group of victims.  The police or the specialist units failed, the report claims, to find them. They are rarely found in brothels and are more likely to be exploited in closed communities.

The report revealed that The Poppy Project, which works with victims of trafficking, had told them that women from West Africa are the largest group they work with. Of 197 Nigerian women they have worked with since 2003 just nine were referred to them by the police.

This is a subject close to my heart, and I am concerned that we are not yet in a situation where we are even hitting the tip of the iceberg despite resources and specialist units being deployed.

Charities such as the Poppy Project do the very best work they can with limited resource, but they are only able to act when victims are brought to them.

The Police must work with other agencies to develop greater intelligence in this area to really tackle the closed world of trafficking and exploitation, and help these victims.


Bring Back Feminism

Labour Party

 Two stories in the news today, both in the Guardian, caught my eye. The first was the news that pro-choice groups are now retaliating against the gains made by anti-abortion campaigners. The second was an excellent piece by Jackie Ashley on the debate over the sexualisation of young girls.

Recent developments in the political minefield of abortion rights have been, I believe, deeply concerning. Not only are anti-abortion groups such as Life being invited to have their say on government policy but there are proposals being made within the Conservative Party to both limit the time frame within which a woman may have an abortion and also to force women to undergo counselling should they chose to seek one.

Why are these proposals so appalling? Well, in terms of the reduction of time limits, the number of abortions that are undertaken in the later weeks is actually a miniscule proportion of all abortions carried out. Undergoing a late-term abortion is a horrendous experience that no woman would take lightly and would only be done in the most extreme circumstances. The women who choose to have late-term abortions are often the most vulnerable, women who have been abused or who are unaware of their pregnancy, have very controlling families or find out their child has a severe disability.

I also oppose plans to force women who wish to have a termination to undergo counselling. This is not to say that I think counselling in itself a bad thing. Indeed, if a woman wishes to have counselling for what can be a traumatising experience it should absolutely be provided. But forcing a woman to undergo counselling simply sends out the message that this decision is not hers alone, society has a say, and society disapproves.

Surprisingly, on the subject of the sexualisation of young girls the Conservative Right and Feminist Left find themselves in uneasy agreement, albeit for divergent reasons. The Right, headed by the likes of Nadine Dorries, oppose the sexualisation of young girls because they believe sex to be nasty and dirty and the sexualisation of young girls to be something nasty and dirty happening to children.

Many of us on the Left, however, oppose the selling of padded bras for seven year olds and make up and stilettos as toys for different reasons. This is because, as Jackie Ashley says, these girls “are being groomed – not by pervy old men hanging over computer keyboards, but by today’s ideology-free, value-free consumer culture, which tells them they’re sexually hot or they’re nothing”. The sexualisation and commodification of women is a false empowerment. What kind of freedom is the freedom to take your clothes off or get silicone enhanced breasts? Men don’t feel obliged to undergo cosmetic surgery and grueling beauty routines in order to look “acceptable” within society. Women need to realise that they have simply swapped one form of slavery and societal control for another.

Although the Left and Right agree that there should be something done, it is still for fundamentally different reasons. This is why the Left should not simply sit back and let the religious Right fight this battle. A feminist voice should be heard. This is not only because a lot of the other things these groups have to say about women, such as abortion rights, is poisonous and regressive, but because you can’t change society just by banning things. In order to enact real and lasting change you need to address the way both men and women think about these issues.