PMQs sketch: This was the crimson tide personified

Ed M's questions turned the perma-tanned PM into a red-faced bad temper on legs.

The Prime Minister's plea for people to bring their children to work on strike day did not fall on deaf ears in the House of Commons, which packed both Government and Opposition benches with them for a juvenile version of PMQs.

As the nation's pubic sector workers froze their bits off in demonstrations all over the country, this group on the public payroll gathered in the warmth of the Chamber to offer either support, or a Baroness-Trumpington-salute to the strikers.

You could tell the world had moved on -- in the 24 hours since they, and we, were told we were on our way to hell in a handcart -- by the absence from the event of yesterday's chief-gloomster, Chancellor George. One wondered if he had taken advantage of the lack of passport control staff to flee the country and certainly, the presence in his place on a school day of chief secretary Danny Alexander only added to the air of unreality.

But the real import of the absence of George was to be seen on the effect to his friend the Prime Minister, suddenly on his own in front of the brutish hordes of Labour with only Danny and Nick Clegg to hold him up -- the job usually done by George with a strategically placed hand.

With his best pal apparently on the run, Dave lost it big time and so spectacularly that at one stage it looked as if the Prime Minister's head would be delivered literally to the strikers.

Lift Off came within minutes of the whistle blowing. All eyes were on Ed Miliband who had found himself in difficulties of his own in recent weeks, trying to condemn whilst supporting the strikers.

Ed did it cleverly again today by managing to be on both sides at once, taking the moral high-ground. Dave is not a big fan of cleverness, and proceeded to greet it by transforming himself in front of our eyes from a normal perma-tanned PM into a red-faced finger-stabbing bad temper on legs. He was aided in this endeavour by the massed voices of the Tory choir up on the terraces, who love it when their man shows his true boot-boy colours.

Ed was "irresponsible, left-wing and weak," said Dave, as he reminded the Labour leader he had been less than consistent on the strike. Obviously stung by the charge of being left-wing, Ed drew his own finger from its scabbard and tried to poke Dave's eye out over the Despatch Box.

The Labour side accompanied their leader's cut and thrust with further cries of "crimson tide"; the description flung at the PM as new and deeper hues emerge from his shirt collar as his over-excitement increased.

This was enough to bring Speaker Bercow to his feet for the first of many occasions during the session, as he accused the Tory side of "orchestrated barracking" -- a charge that made Labour increase its volume clearly seeking the same compliment.

Both leaders continued to swap insults with the Prime Minister, happy to point out more than once that the pension proposals leading to today's strikes had been drawn up by former Labour Minister Lord Hutton.

Any hope that the PM might get a grip on himself totally disappeared when his personal red rag Ed Balls joined in by calling on him to calm down. Had he not had guy ropes secretly attached, Dave might clearly have left the floor at that moment. With Ed B's head nodding so furiously that you feared it too could take off, Ed M said Plan A had failed; the poorest were picking up the bills, and never again could he say we were all in this together.

There were rare moments of light relief. A historical time-warp called Jacob Rees-Mogg got up to languidly opine that Dave should follow Ronnie Reagan's modern approach to trade unions and sack the strikers. Even Dave ignored him.

The PM revealed his own staff were helping break the strike leaving some wondering if George really had been smuggled out of the country. By now the Speaker had been on his feet more times than the Leader of the Opposition, and so PMQs destined to end at 12.30pm to give MPs a chance to get as decent seat for lunch.

Amber Rudd got in just before the menus to ask Cameron to condemn Labour MPs who he said had asked permission of the GMB union to cross a picket line outside the Commons to attend PMQs.

Outside, the strikers got out their sandwiches and wondered what all the noise had been about.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Why has the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down?

Women who sell sex on the streets have always been the most visible, most vulnerable, and most stigmatised, part of the sex trade. Only recently did they become the most targeted by the state.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.