The Labour Party Faces New Divisions Over Sex Work

Framed as an attempt to cut down on online sex trafficking, the pair of bills commonly known as the FOSTA-SESTA package became law in the United States in April this year. In essence, this new law was made to crack down on the advertisement of sex work online which in itself has been met with controversy on all sides of the political spectrum.

In the last week, the dispute has moved to the United Kingdom after a group of MPs, headed by Labour’s Sarah Champion brought the debate to Parliament. Ms Champion is openly in favour of the Nordic Model (the criminalisation of the purchase of sex), and wants to pressure the UK government to bring this model to Britain. Even Jeremy Corbyn himself has spoken out in favour of the this model. Divisions within the Labour Party over the issue are growing and many are calling on their leadership to speak out against the proposals and back full decriminalisation of sex work. Whether this actually happens or not, remains to be seen.

A key argument against Ms Champion’s proposals is that the criminalisation of sex work will just drive the industry underground, thus putting sex workers themselves at risk. It is naïve to think that any amount of regulation could completely eradicate what is a well-established industry. The internet plays a vital role in the safeguarding of sex workers. In a study undertaken by Beyond the Gaze, it was found that three quarters of sex workers identified the internet as an important factor in their safety. Through taking their work online, there is access to vital support systems and the ability to vet clients prior to meeting them. The idea then that getting rid of online advertising platforms would protect sex workers from exploitation is misguided to say the least.

In countries such as Greece where sex work is heavily regulated, many sex workers now practice illegally leaving them at the mercy of pimps and trafficking gangs who seek to exploit them. This is a real world example of how criminalisation is not always the best option. The aftermath of the law passing in the US has been the exact opposite of its supposed intentions leading to sex workers being pushed back onto the streets and back into the hands of those who exploited them. For those on the left who hold workers’ rights close to their hearts, this should be a real wake up call.

Sex work in itself is a complex industry and no two workers join the industry for the same reason. There is no denying that exploitation exists and no one calling for decriminalisation is arguing that. The idea, however, that a change in law would somehow ‘save’ those forced into the industry is very wrong. Even survivors of sex trafficking are arguing against the proposed changes and find it bewildering that very few of those in power are choosing to consult them. No industry is without exploitation, such is the nature of capitalism but to make potentially dangerous changes to the regulation of an industry without consulting its workers is dangerous.

Terminology is also important when discussing this issue. A transcript from the parliamentary debate appears to show Labour MPs Jess Philips and Sarah Champion forcing the use of the term prostitute as opposed to sex worker. The sex industry is broad and though there are some who refer to themselves as prostitutes, there are many who do not. In a model motion that is being put to CLPs across the country it is noted just how many different roles are included in the term sex worker. It is not the job of those outside of the industry to decide which is correct. This again is an example of how little dialogue there has been between those within the industry and those in positions of power.

For self-proclaimed feminist MPs to constantly use the argument that they are in some way ‘saving women’ by working to legislate against sex work is again damaging. Regardless of an individual’s thoughts on the morality of sex work, the industry exists and to introduce a law that would be harmful to sex workers of all genders is in no way going to ‘save women’. This rhetoric is far from helpful and takes attention away from the real problem at hand.

The Labour Party in the United Kingdom has historically prided itself on being the Party of the workers; indeed the clue is in the name, so to speak. For many, this fact is fundamental to the debate. As put in a recent article for LabourList, ‘it is self-evident that workers should be the ones to determine how best to improve their working conditions’. The sex industry exists and where an industry exists so do workers who must be protected. The Labour Party must recognise this and treat the industry just like any other. It must listen to the workers, and work to strengthen their rights.

The Inaugural LabourLive – Success or Failure?

‘A festival of music, art and politics’, LabourLive promised a lot and for all intents and purposes, it delivered. From the Corbyn merch-clad individuals to the pro-EU protesters, this was a day that went beyond all expectations, a day full of surprises. Glastonbury it wasn’t, but there was something unique, and rather special about it.

It would be wrong to put LabourLive into the same category as a music festival. Equally it would be wrong to compare it to a literary festival or indeed a conference. To quote the Independent, it was ‘part fun fair, part circus, part music festival, part socialist summer school’, there really was something for everyone. As a volunteer, the only complaint received was the lack of sufficient tea and coffee, a most British complaint. It is true that there could have been better food and drink provision but this just gives weight to the fact that there were far more people in attendance that expected.

For those looking to leave the festival inspired, LabourLive did not disappoint. From talks on liberation to a question time featuring MPs, trade unionists and journalists, the political education aspect of the festival was high. Certainly some speakers fared better than others, with Owen Jones drawing a predictably large crowd given the demographic of many of the attendees. Naturally, there were controversial moments with Unite’s Len McCluskey seemingly on the warpath against some of Labour’s more moderate MPs. Indeed the majority of guest speakers seemed to have a similar ideology to each other, which is unsurprising given the nature of the event’s organisers. Political events such as these will always struggle to move away from being echo chambers, but for many activists who spend most of their time battling with those of opposing views, it was almost a comfort to spend a day in the presence of like-minded individuals.

One could almost sense the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn in the air, the staff suddenly on high alert for the inevitable mob that would surround him. To those outside of the Corbyn bubble this almost cult-like behaviour is unfamiliar and for some, scary. Indeed if you were to visit the merchandise stalls, you were hard pushed to find something on offer that didn’t have some nod to ‘the absolute boy’. Many are quick to argue whether we have reached ‘peak Corbyn’ and whether the (small m) momentum is fading. But if you were to ask any of the festival goers chanting the infamous ‘oh Jeremy Corbyn’ yesterday, they would have given you a different story.

The main event was hotly anticipated and indeed many remarked that those who had purchased tickets had only done so to witness one of the Labour leader’s barnstorming speeches. This is however perhaps a naïve view of the day. There were people from across the Labour Party and indeed from other left-leaning Parties such as the Green Party in attendance. This was an event run and billed to the left of the Party as was clear from the choice of speakers. However it wasn’t a complete ‘JezFest’. It was children playing freely, it was students celebrating the beginning of summer, it was generally a fun (and in many cases free) day out. As a volunteer, it was hard not to catch the bug.

At the end of the day, this festival was about more than just ticket sales. This was about uniting a divided Party and bringing together people from all communities, all ages and all walks of life for a common cause. Financially it was not a great success for the Party but one must look beyond the media spin to the opinions of those actually there. The Tories can mock, and they will, but LabourLive brought something new to British politics. In comparison to the failures of Tory Glastonbury, LabourLive was a great success. ‘Why is it just the left who have all the fun in politics?’ lamented George Freeman, perhaps it is because we are willing to have events like LabourLive, willing to engage with all people, to take risks and to have fun.

Gordon Brown Calls for a Second Referendum

 

Gordon Brown has become the latest in a string of high profile political figures in the UK to call for a second referendum on Brexit. According to the Daily Express, Brown plans to ‘re-enter the political fray next week joining senior Labour figures trying to thwart Brexit‘. This move was met with suspicion from those both within the Labour Party and those outside of it; time will tell how much of an influence it will have on policy of the Labour Party and the country.

It is no secret that the former Labour leader has been a long-time supporter of the European Union and has clashed with current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, over the issue and he has previously put pressure on Corbyn to change party policy.

There are arguments that almost two years on from the Referendum, people are more aware of the complexities of the issue and many who previously voted to leave have indeed now changed their minds. The referendum itself was never legally binding and so for many, it is vital to have a new, less binary, referendum which sets out the specific areas of EU policy such as membership of the Customs Union or Single Market. However, there is criticism that even with a more detailed referendum, the outcome may not be hugely successful. Opponents of the first referendum, and indeed referendums generally, would argue that they are confusing for an electorate and such important issues should not be put to the ordinary voter.

It is perhaps true to say that a majority of British people are at this point getting rather fed up with the constant talk of Brexit. Though it is indeed a critical issue and undeniably the most important issue to face the country for years, to start the whole process again with a second referendum may be detrimental to the cause that those in favour of it are fighting for.

There are further issues with demanding a second referendum in terms of the logistics of such a referendum. Since the 23rd June 2016, there have been significant changes in the politics of the United Kingdom and, at the very least there would be questions as to who would actually lead either side of the debate. Looking at the leaders of the two largest political parties, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, who both campaigned for remain, it would be difficult to imagine them both leading the Remain campaign a second time round.

It is no secret that the Conservative Party has a considerable level of Euroscepticism within it and for Mrs May to come out and lead a campaign to remain in the European Union in 2018 could spell the end of her leadership of the Party. 

On the other side of the political spectrum, Corbyn is not the ideal candidate to lead a renewed charge back to the EU either. He and many of his vocal supporters have been Eurosceptics their entire career, and to limp back to the EU now would not suit their long-term political ambitions.

The other contender to lead the Remain side would be Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable. The Lib Dems are arguably the only completely pro-EU major Party in Britain and would be an obvious choice to lead the campaign to remain. However, they have enjoyed limited electoral success in recent elections and they are still facing the hangover from the coalition years. It is clear, that a second referendum would cause major splits in what is already a fragile political landscape.

Overall, it is not untrue to say that for many, the call for a second referendum coming from a previous prime minister is not something that will go down particularly well. Every time a political figure from previous years appears on the current political system, the British public tends to react with suspicion and often hostility. To call for a second referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union is a bold move for Gordon Brown. There are endless arguments against a second referendum and in the words of Brenda from Bristol, ‘Not another one!’.