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.

My piece for Total Politics: Do EU policies serve our economic interests?

Labour Party

The latest issue of Total Politics magazine has an article wrote about whether or not the European Union still serves our economic interests. I have pasted my argument here in the blog, and it is available in the latest issue (February) Total Politics.

Do EU policies still serve our economic interests?

by Mary Honeyball MEP and Michael Fabricant MP / 17 Jan 2013

Mary Honeyball MEP warns against the dangers of ‘single market-lite’, but Michael Fabricant MP believes our economy is too different from those of other member states

This article is from the February 2013 issue of Total Politics

Yes, says Mary Honeyball

Certain elements of the British political class have for too long treated the European Union as a scapegoat for our economic woes. Always a simplistic view, this attitude to the EU is becoming increasingly untenable.

As far as the broad economic argument is concerned, the essential point is that much of the western world is in recession. We are, inevitably, all in this together. Britain’s economy and that of the eurozone are inextricably linked.

The eurozone is the UK’s biggest trading partner, and the decline in the bloc’s fortunes – the 17-nation eurozone contracted by 0.1 per cent between July and September 2012, following a 0.2 per cent decline during the previous three months – contributed to our falling back into recession earlier in 2012.

It is the eurozone, and by extension the EU single market, that really matters to the UK. The majority of our exports go to the single market, and as a result any dip in the eurozone economies will have an adverse effect on Britain.

Given the single market’s importance, it seems extraordinary that anyone in government would think about upsetting the balance so necessary for the UK’s prosperity, yet this balance would be utterly undone if our much-vaunted repatriation of powers were to be applied to the single market. The government, along with London mayor Boris Johnson and assorted eurosceptics, think they can negotiate a “single market-lite”. What they mean is bringing EU employment law, health and safety regulations and anything else to do with working conditions back to the UK, presumably with a view to reducing these social provisions once they are safely restored. And it’s not only employment legislation. Trying to negotiate this single market-lite would have serious implications for London’s financial services. More euros are traded in London than Paris and Frankfurt combined, but would this still be the case after a ‘Brixit’?

EU leaders have made it clear they don’t see an attempt by Britain to repatriate powers as a plausible action. French President François Hollande has already insisted EU member states must comply with the terms of EU treaties they have signed and ratified, saying: “Europe is not a Europe where you can take back competencies. It is not Europe à la carte.”

The single market agreements and treaties serve a very real purpose and are not simply a means for the EU to impose its will on recalcitrant member states. For the single market to function, there needs to be a level playing field. This is the reason employment law and other work-related matters need to be broadly the same across the EU. If one country were able to have an easier time than the others, it would have an unfair advantage and undermine the power of the single market and its ability to function.

Given that the EU single market, which Britain entered under the premiership of the eurosceptic Margaret Thatcher, is so important for our exports, attempts to repatriate powers from this economically beneficial part of the EU seem like a prime example of cutting off our nose to spite our face. Britain’s economy needs a fully functioning single market – it is the most crucial reason Britain needs the EU.

What is more, any proposals for repatriation of powers would need the agreement of the 26 other EU member states, an unlikely scenario if the French president is anything to go by. The fact that there is little likelihood of any new treaty negotiations happening before the European Parliament elections in 2014 just adds another layer to a misguided fantasy.

The UK is one of the big players in the EU. German chancellor Angela Merkel does not want a ‘Brixit’. A source close to her recently said: ”The chancellor and her closest advisers are trying very hard to make it easy for Britain to keep the EU door open. The chancellor does not belong to the school that is fed up with Britain; she believes it is essential Britain remains at the heart of Europe.”

Given that there is still such goodwill towards Britain, it would be sheer folly to throw this away in a desperate bid to attempt to repatriate powers from the single market and thereby undermine Britain’s economy. We should, instead, take stock of where our economic interests lie in relation to the European Union before it is too late.

Mary Honeyball is Labour MEP for London

The media need to get over their Europhobia

Labour Party

I’ve written a blog for Total Politics on the Eurosceptic British press and why I think the public are genuinely interested in what goes on in Brussels. You can read it in full below.

Politicians and specifically MEPs often face derision from the mainstream press, especially the right wing press. So it was hardly surprising to read in The Daily Express that MEPs are the least trusted profession, overtaking that of the more traditionally disliked professions.

The survey was hardly ground breaking and actually doesn’t reflect the experiences I’ve had in 10 years as an MEP – and that’s not because I’ve surrounded myself in Brussels Bureaucracy.

Last weekend was a good example. I was invited to take part in the Sunday Times web chat. It followed the week of the story where four MEPs had been caught taking cash for their services. It was of course disgraceful and I was fully prepared to answer questions relating to this terrible episode.

But to my surprise the chat which ensued couldn’t have been more different in terms of the questions people asked. There was genuine interest in Brussels, in the work we do; in how legislation is made and in what the Brussels machine does.  Most people just wanted to know more, they were intrigued.

There is more interest in European politics than the media gives the general public credit for. Indeed one of the Europe correspondents, who I know well, told me recently how difficult it is for him to get anything past his editors about Brussels. ‘The news editors back home just don’t get it’ he said somewhat dejected.

What I find most curious is the disdain the media seems to perpetuate in this country. Other parts of Europe enjoy fruitful debate. Their media closely follows the work of the Parliament, it understands it and as a result is able to more closely investigate and scrutinise it.  I would welcome the same level of scrutiny in this country.

The truth is the British media seems to be dominated by the likes of Nigel Farage, who comes across as media friendly and provides good TV. The Boris Johnson of Europe I Suppose. How many times has the Labour leader in Europe, or the Conservative for that matter, appeared on Question Time? They haven’t. But Farage who isn’t a member of a mainstream political party in this country receives disproportionate coverage precisely because he’s considered to be so entertaining.

There is one saving grace; BBC Parliament, specifically the Record Europe, covers European politics more seriously than any other outlet in this country and therefore gives a better reflection of what we are really about. I hope this spreads across to other media agencies and the public can get a better reflection of what we are really about. They deserve it after all.

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.

Total Politics top 20 Labour Blogs

Labour Party

I am number 14 in the Total Politics top 100 Labour blogs, up from 80 last year.

Needless to say, I’m very pleased and it’s good to know that there are so many people taking an interest in European politics.

My thanks to everyone who voted for me.

Total Politics Blogger Profile

Labour Party

This blog is truly coming of age.  I have now reached the dizzy heights of a blogger profile in Total Politics. 

I am naturally very pleased to see the blog recognised in this way.  I reach far more of you through the blog than I would by going to meetings.  The blog also gives me the opportunity to talk about what actually goes on in the European Parliament.  I hope I can challenge some of the distortions which appear in much of the British media (with a few honourable exceptions, of course).

I have also used this blog for campaigning, notably the petition to keep the Metropolitan Police human trafficking unit, and conducted polls, in particular on Ryanair’s use of practically naked young women in their advertising.

I’m also pleased that the reach of the blog extends far and wide.  I get hits from all over the world, and have in the past done an interview about blogging on French radio.