Up close and personal

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Whatever our political stripe, we can all unhesitatingly agree that this government is useless on the big things: climate change, war and peace, regulation of the banks, protection of Britain’s landscape and woodland, the wealth gap. You name the big issue, and New Labour has either failed to notice, or failed to act when it did notice.

This is not to say that the government has remained inert. Far from it: in eleven and half years of rule Labour has passed more laws than any other government, particularly criminal justice legislation. A Liberal Democrat peer has estimated that 13,000 pages of legislation are produced each year by this government compared to the 8,000-page norm for previous modern governments.

Where this political energy goes is no mystery. It is the personal sphere. Labour compensates for its inadequacies on the big issues by focusing on personal behaviour and telling each one of us how to act in our private lives. It is obsessed with our personal data and has come to believe that the slightest detail of our lives – a journey to see mother on a Sunday, a trip to Calais, a phone call or email to a friend – is of compelling interest to the state.

There is nothing too small for the government’s “concern”. Overweight parents are to be paid to walk their children to school, sign up to exercise classes or use public transport (because that is deemed to involve some physical exertion).

Smokers are to be banned from fostering children, while single people may be allowed foster.

As the Observer reported last week, the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, will shortly announce an overhaul of prostitution law, making it an offence for a man to buy sex from a prostitute if she is “controlled for the gain” of another person.

This is a big issue and one that reflect the government’s complete failure to tackle people-smuggling. So it has reacted by depriving men and women of the freedom to come to a commercial arrangement about sex. The Observer’s political editor wrote:

[The law] is expected to be so widely drafted that it could cover up to nine out of 10 sex workers, not just those trafficked into the sex trade but those controlled by pimps or even by drug habits.

All well and good you would imagine, but the fact is that there are a large number of people who need and want to buy and sell sex, including women from men and men from men, although these types of transaction will not be affected by the law.

The legislation proposed by our interfering nanny of a home secretary is condemned by academic experts who believe that the government has listened to the “incoherent” and “dangerous” research of the anti-prostitution group, The Poppy Project. “We are appalled that the government has used this sloppy research while ignoring a large body of reputable research”, said Dr Helen Ward, one of the authors of the document attacking the government’s plans. “Jacqui Smith’s proposals are deeply flawed and will put sex workers at even more risk of violence and exploitation. They also contain yet another major assault on civil liberties – this time on the liberties of adults having consenting sex.

Necessity is always the government’s cry, but this pattern of legislation leaves us with an inventory of personal freedom that reduces as each week goes by. We need to draw a line between the personal sphere and that which is legitimate interest of the government. We need to say with increasing vehemence, this is my life, not yours.

Henry Porter





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