As someone who follows such things I had expected the latest Home Office consultation exercise to go according to the standard pattern, thus:
- Home Office makes suggestions for changes in public policy…
- …’evidence’ is taken from interested parties including police in search of promotion, contractors in search of contracts, and researchers seeking posts on the new quango to be created…
- Home Office considers, announces its plans have ‘general support’, ticks box marked ‘public consulted’ and carries on with making legislation for parliament to approve.
So I was gearing myself up to write a piece on the repulsive sight of a department torn between the desire to regulate everything and to maintain PC social norms. Citing the ignominious failure of the Victorian Contagious Diseases Acts, I was going to pour scorn on the futility of a regulatory regime that licensed brothels while denying the most basic economic rights to prostitutes, and created ‘zones of toleration’ in an effort to buck the market while punishing the streetwalkers it purported to protect.
The Goverment has shot my fox. And it turns out the fox was packed with explosives. Someone has overturned the (paradoxical) regulatory liberalisers and has decided puritan prohibitions are what we need. The move is instead to be to “Zero Tolerance” of ‘kerb crawlers’ – and quite without comment, the continuation of zero civil-law rights and next to zero criminal-law protections for prostitutes themselves.
The Home Office minister Fiona McTaggart was quoted yesterday on the BBC as saying that prostitution “is child abuse” because many prostitutes begin selling sex below the age of consent. That is an insane argument driven by the demands of moralism. By the same token unpaid sexual contact must also be child abuse, because most people’s sex lives begin before that arbitary, if increasingly rigidly totemic, mark. Someone, somewhere, is making David Blunkett, who was responsible for the original pseudo-tolerant proposals, look like a liberal.
Does the devil’s name begin with B? The emphasis on cleaning up public untidiness by bullying is of a piece with the respec’ agenda. And there have been suggestions that the inate liberalism of the Home Office – not something spotted by many commentators before now – is interfering with the operation of the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit.
Just another brick in the wall, perhaps. But turning the public agenda on a sixpence, and producing plainly mad arguments for doing so, are ominous. The Head Boy is ever more a dictator, and ever more the apostle of social conformity.