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I was reminded by this that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Apparently, the opening of the beautiful Ă–resund bridge linking Denmark and Sweden has seen an increase in traffic by a particular type of man from Sweden (where paying a prostitute is illegal) to Denmark (where prostitution is tolerated).

Now Sweden has a fair few things to be sorry about: Ulrika Johnson and flat-pack furniture are but two imports we could do without. However, their attitude towards prostitution, which requires the operation of a Stasi-like surveillance network, belies a worryingly authoritarian mindset. Unsurprisingly, Harriet Harman, also known to have a penchant for social authoritarianism, has backed the introduction of Swedish-style laws here in the UK.

Before I carry on, there are of course some important points to acknowledge:

1. Many women are on the streets to fund a drug habit- this habit has often been encouraged by a pimp as a further means of control.

2. There is a link between human trafficking and prostitution- many brothels are directly linked to the trafficking of women.

3. There is a link between prostitution and violence against women- many working girls are raped/assaulted.

Even with these points in mind I would argue that prohibition is not working and can never work. We need to create a system that is better than the mess we currently have. Firstly, we must recognise that in criminalising prostitution we have only pushed it underground and into the hands of some very unsavoury characters. Therefore I’d argue that there needs to be a measure of legalisation with regulation and regular health checks for sex-workers. If two consenting adults wish to exchange money in return for sex, that is their affair (the principle of consent is paramount here: the girl mustn’t be working under duress). Importantly, by legalising prostitution, we can free up resources to tackle organised crime, violence against women, and human trafficking.

Secondly (and crucially) this all needs to be joined up with other parts of policy. There has to be a more sensible attitude to drugs and better support available for people with serious substance abuse problems: locking up drug addicts doesn’t help anyone and it should be clear that part of the health-check for sex workers carries a proviso that a drug addiction is a disqualification. There also needs to be better general provision of support for women who are victims of violence: this means more in terms of social services and more safe houses.

I’m not saying that any of this is the perfect answer. However, the way we deal with prostitution exposes broader problems in our approach to drugs and violence: in all of these areas our attitudes need to change.

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“Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”

Mikhail Bakunin

As well as being the 60th Anniversary of the NHS this year, it’s also 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human Rights are as important now as they ever were: in an era of detention without trial, rendition to face torture, and restricted rights to asylum, it is equally important that they are defended.

“…every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

-Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I was at dinner with Lord Justice Scott Baker (he of Diana inquest fame) last week: the food was mediocre and the wine execrable but the Judge did have some valid points to make. Given that we promised to be tough on the causes of crime as much as crime itself, it was interesting to hear a legal professional make the point that by the time young people get the attention and care that they need, they have often offended. Part of me thinks that this is a real failure of the system given that we only intervene once something has gone wrong. But the other part of me is sceptical as to how much a government, either through legislation or expenditure or whatever, can achieve on its own.

With this in mind that it is perhaps interesting to think what the causes of crime are. Social breakdown is certainly one. A lack of economic prospects perhaps another. Many would argue that the move away from a traditional family structure plays a large part. In all of these cases though, the government can only play a minor part in the solution.

I asked the Lord Justice whether he thought that building ever more prisons and locking ever more people up demonstrated a real lack of imagination from us as a society. This was in response to his stating that the money being spent on prisons could be better spent at an earlier stage. He agreed but also higlighted the problem: the tabloid press screaming for ever harsher and harsher sentencing when more nuanced punishments would often be appropriate.

How any party that wants to look electable even starts to try and debate a nuanced criminal justice policy is beyond me. But until we do, I fear much more money is going to be wasted on sticking plaster remedies.

Apologies for the pun but David Hockney, Art-God and all round hero, has been grumping about again. Not that I can blame him: not only do I admire his work, his radical libertarian instincts are right up my street.

What’s got his goat this time is the plans by Angela Eagle to ban drawings of children. Hockney points out that this makes a good deal of great art child-porn, to which Eagle replied that the law wouldn’t be used to ban legitimate works of art. So, not only (in words borrowed from Proudhon) are we ‘watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, [and] commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so’, those same creatures are now going to decide what is ‘art’ and what isn’t. Zut Alors.

More Hockneyisms

On Gordon Brown:

“a dreary atheistic Calvinistic prig, who I’m sure will never be elected in England. He goes along with a ‘health lobby’ whose view of life itself I detest.”

On Cannabis:

“Why is the stuff still illegal? I assume it’s the power of the alcohol lobby being behind most things. Alcohol has damaged and killed friends of mine, but I’ve never known anyone harmed by the weed, whose relaxing pleasure I have enjoyed for 40 years.”

On Climate Change:

“Oh no. Here’s another hair-shirt person coming towards me and telling me to ride a bicycle. I blame computers. They can make predictive models of anything, and tell us we’re all heading towards doom. But in our grandparents’ day, what do you think people were worrying about? Hellfire and eternal damnation caused by our bad conduct. Global warming has just replaced God. Something to feel guilty about. The new religion.”

On refusing a Knighthood:

“I don’t value prizes of any sort. I value my friends. Prizes of any sort are a bit suspect.”