The Guardian today is reporting of a list of some 130 demands being made by the unions. Some of them seem sensible (such as measures on flexible working) but a large number vary from the ridiculous (calling for staff in city academies to be paid at the same rates as other school staff) to the insane (restoration of secondary action). I hope that the inflated nature (and the inclusion of more controversial demands) of the list is a tactical measure in order to secure the more modest measures: that there are people that can still talk of restoring secondary rights makes my mind boggle.

Some people say that if you can’t beat them, join them. I say that’s rubbish: if you can’t beat them, cheat.

Before I get charged with opportunism, I’ve always been an advocate of voting reform- some kind of AV system would probably do the job best- but the problem with voting reform is that the minute a party gets a majority, the minute voting reform is ditched.

So, given that experience of the last 30 years probably demonstrates that thumping majorities don’t do the parties that have them any good, perhaps it’s time to bring voting reform back onto the agenda?

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.

“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.”

Hugh Orde, head of the PSNI, has some interesting things to say in today’s Guardian. I certainly think he’s brave bringing up the notion of negotiating with Islamic terrorists in the current climate and would tend to agree that some kind of negotiations must take place at some point in the future: the comparison with Northern Ireland has been used before, though that does not make it less valid.

That said, whilst it is undoubtedly the case that in the long-term there are only political solutions not military ones, I don’t think that now is the time to think about talking. The IRA only became interested in talking when it became apparent that the war was unwinnable: there is no reason to believe that al-Qaida will be any different. With that in mind, the strategy should be to continue to make life difficult for al-Qaida terrorists, financiers, and sympathisers through a broad range of measures to harass and grind down the ability of al-Qaida operatives to function. Only when the resolve of civilised nations is seen to be unbreakable will it be time to talk.

I mentioned a few weeks ago how I felt that the mood in Italy had changed since the election of Berlusconi: now Amnesty has issued a report that documents a surge of violence against Roma gypsies whilst news reports of attacks on North African Muslims, and immigrant workers are becoming increasingly frequent. Whilst it would be easy to blame the governing coalition which has former fascist parties amongst its members for the growing atmosphere of hate, the left has hardly helped: former mayor of Rome and candidate for Prime Minister Walter Veltroni stated that he thought 75% of crime in Rome was caused by the Roma.

Which leads us to the UK. There is undoubtedly a massive amount of seething anger amongst white working class communities: you only have to go out on the stump to get an appreciation of the size of the problem. The challenge for the left is dealing with this resentment and anger in a way that doesn’t simply pander to racists (it is my conviction that the great majority of these people are not racist, they’re just fed-up with what the perceive as ‘being ignored’).

How in our words and deeds can we address their concerns? I’m not sure I have an easy answer. Integration is certainly a big part of any solution: how this can be achieved under the umbrella of a multi-cultural agenda that promotes segregation though, I’m not entirely sure.

There’s lots of talk about the next election, some insightful, some less so: I’m reluctant to add more than I’ve said thus far, but I hope that we fight the next election on more than how awful the Tories were last time around. Undoubtedly they were awful but people have short memories of old people dying on trolleys in hospital corridors, negative equity, repossessions, and the rest of it- we desperately need to outline a vision for where we want Britain to be in 10-20 years time. In 1997, the message was simple: we’ll look after the economy, not raise income tax, put the public services on a stable footing, and face the future as a modern, tolerant country. The question is that now we’ve demonstrated we’re not a party of swivel-eyed ideologues where do we go next?