Nigel Farage speaks during a press conference with Ukip MEPs in London on May 26, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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It's time to challenge Ukip over its climate change denial

The party should face a far more rigorous examination of its unscientific beliefs.

The success of Ukip in the local and European elections should bring greater scrutiny of its policies, particularly on energy, ahead of next year’s general election. While the party capitalised on concerns about immigration and the EU in order to gain MEPs and councillors in many parts of the country, its manifestos also outlined energy policies that reflect an outright denial of man-made climate change.

The Ukip European manifesto attacked EU targets for renewables and efforts to close the most polluting coal-fired power plants, on the grounds that they increase the "risk of blackouts", but also promised to scrap the UK’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce fuel duty on petrol. The party’s manifesto for the English local elections offered fewer pledges on energy, but vowed to "end wasteful EU and UK subsidies to 'renewable energy scams,' such as wind turbines and solar farms."

These commitments were very loosely based on Ukip's energy policy pamphlet, which now lies relatively hidden on the party’s website after its publication earlier this year. The pamphlet complains of policies that are "dictated by Brussels," but also lashes out at domestic measures, suggesting we should abandon renewables and instead "base our energy strategy on gas, nuclear and coal."

Most strikingly of all, it recommends "a re-think" to allow the UK to exploit its remaining coal reserves, claiming that the local impacts of mining can be avoided by "emerging technologies enabling energy to be recovered from coal by underground combustion".  But it fails to admit that although underground coal gasification has been the subject of research for many years, it is still far from being proven as a widespread commercially viable technology.

While acknowledging that coal-fired power stations "must use clean technology to remove sulphur and nitrogen oxides, particulates and other pollutants", the pamphlet attacks the Large Combustion Plant Directive which requires all member states to limit such emissions. This is one of many stark examples of Ukip opposing EU rules on ideological grounds, even though it is purportedly in favour of the UK adopting such restrictions unilaterally.

The pamphlet goes on to state that nuclear waste should be buried underground, while dismissing the risks of an escape of radioactive material in the long term on the spectacularly optimistic grounds that "our descendants in a few hundred years will have made vast technical strides that we cannot even imagine today" and "may be mining our waste deposits, safely, to reuse in new ways."

Further inconsistency is evident in its criticism of public support for renewables, "especially in current economic times", while simultaneously arguing for bigger tax cuts to promote the exploitation of shale gas through fracking. The pamphlet claims that fracking will lead to "cheaper and abundant energy," even though analysts have pointed out that the UK is unlikely to have enough shale gas to reduce the European price of natural gas.

Given the apparent concerns about costs, one might have expected the pamphlet to discuss the price tag on its proposals to increase the UK’s dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power. But it offers no such estimate. Apart from its rejection of Europe-wide policies on principle, the other common theme running throughout the pamphlet is an avowed denial of the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. It claims that the rise in global average temperature so far is due to "natural" causes, and refuses to accept that carbon dioxide has anything but a beneficial effect because it is "essential to plant growth and life on earth".

It is not surprising, then, that Ukip wants to repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act and to abandon its legally-binding targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The architect of Ukip's energy policy is Roger Helmer, who was re-elected this weekend as an MEP for the East Midlands. Helmer is also the party’s candidate for the Newark by-election next week, and has already publicly reiterated his hatred of wind turbines as a key part of his campaign.

Newark’s voters can gain an insight into Helmer’s worldview by visiting his blog where he recently used public protests against the annual slaughter of migrating birds by hunters in Malta to highlight his own greater concerns about the threat posed by wind turbines. Earlier this year, his blog publicised a book that suggested the sun, rather than greenhouse gas emissions, is driving global warming.

Helmer is not the only Ukip MEP who actively promotes climate change denial. He is joined by Paul Nuttall, the party’s deputy leader, who represents North-West England in the European Parliament where he has been a member of Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. Last September, Nuttall made a speech against biofuels and described "so-called global warming due to man-made carbon emissions" as "increasingly discredited as a climate theory". He cited the recent slowdown in the rate of rise in global average surface temperature as justification, along with a notorious article in the Mail on Sunday, which wrongly suggested that Arctic sea ice extent increased by 60 per cent between 2012 and 2013.

Of course, Ukip is not the only party to have openly denied the science of climate change while supposedly representing the best interests of British voters. The BNP shares Ukip's disregard for the scientific evidence, with its leader, Nick Griffin, previously having called global warming "a hoax".

But with the wipeout of the BNP in last week’s European elections, Ukip has become the standard bearer for all those who believe that the science of climate change has been concocted by environmental groups and scientists. However, with Ukip now setting its sights on seats at Westminster, and Nigel Farage speculating openly about holding the balance of power in a hung parliament, its candidates should face a far more rigorous examination of their unscientific beliefs and the lack of robust analysis behind their energy policy.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Let's not abolish sex work. Let's abolish all work

To describe sex work as "a job like any other job" is only a positive reframing if you consider a "job" to be a good thing by definition. 

Is sex work "a job like any other" - and is that a good thing? Amnesty International today officially adopted a policy recommending the decriminalisation of sex work around the world as the best way to reduce violence in the industry and safeguard both workers and those who are trafficked into prostitution. 

“Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination,” said Tawanda Mutasah, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Law and Policy. “Our policy outlines how governments must do more to protect sex workers from violations and abuse.

“We want laws to be refocused on making sex workers’ lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the police while addressing the very real issue of exploitation,” said Mutasah, emphasising the organisation’s policy that forced labour, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking are human rights abuses which, under international law, must be criminalised in every country. “We want governments to make sure no one is coerced to sell sex, or is unable to leave sex work if they choose to.”

The proposal from the world’s best-known human rights organisation has caused uproar, particularly from some feminist campaigners who believe that decriminalisation will "legitimise" an industry that it is uniquely harmful to women and girls. 

As sex workers around the world rally for better working conditions and legal protections, more and more countries are adopting versions of the "Nordic Model" - attempting to crack down on sex work by criminalising the buyers of commercial sex, most of whom are men. Amnesty, along with many sex workers’ rights organisations, claims that that the "Nordic Model’"in fact forces the industry underground and does little to protect sex workers from discrimination and abuse. 

The battle lines have been drawn, and the "feminist sex wars" of the 1980s are under way again. Gloria Steinem, who opposes Amnesty’s move, is one of many campaigners who believe the very phrase "sex work" is damaging. "'Sex work' may have been invented in the US in all goodwill, but it has been a dangerous phrase - even allowing home governments to withhold unemployment and other help from those who refuse it,” Steinem wrote on Facebook in 2015. “Obviously, we are free to call ourselves anything we wish, but in describing others, anything that requires body invasion - whether prostitution, organ transplant, or gestational surrogacy - must not be compelled." She wanted the UN to "sex work" with "prostituted women, children, or people". 

The debate over sex work is the only place where you can find modern liberals seriously discussing whether work itself is an unequivocal social good. The phrase "sex work" is essential precisely because it makes that question visible. Take the open letter recently published by former prostitute ‘Rae’, now a committed member of the abolitionist camp, in which she concludes: “Having to manifest sexual activity due to desperation is not consent. Utilising a poor woman for intimate gratification – with the sole knowledge that you are only being engaged with because she needs the money – is not a neutral, amoral act.”

I agree with this absolutely. The question of whether a person desperate for cash can meaningfully consent to work is vital. And that’s precisely why the term "sex work" is essential. It makes it clear that the problem is not sex, but work itself, carried out within a culture of patriarchal violence that demeans workers in general and women in particular.

To describe sex work as "a job like any other job" is only a positive reframing if you consider a "job" to be a good thing by definition. In the real world, people do all sorts of horrible things they’d rather not do, out of desperation, for cash and survival. People do things that they find boring, or disgusting, or soul-crushing, because they cannot meaningfully make any other choice. We are encouraged not to think about this too hard, but to accept these conditions as simply "the way of the world".

The feminist philosopher Kathi Weeks calls this universal depoliticisation of work “the work society”: an ideology under whose its terms it is taken as a given that work of any kind is liberating, healthy and "empowering". This is why the "work" aspect of "sex work" causes problems for conservatives and radical feminists alike. "Oppression or profession?" is the question posed by a subtitle on Emily Balezon’s excellent feature on the issue for the New York Times this month. But why can’t selling sex be both? 

Liberal feminists have tried to square this circle by insisting that sex work is not "a job like any other", equating all sold sex, in Steinem’s words, with "commercial rape" - and obscuring any possibility of agitating within the industry for better workers’ rights. 

The question of whether sex workers can meaningfully give consent can be asked of any worker in any industry, unless he or she is independently wealthy. The choice between sex work and starvation is not a perfectly free choice - but neither is the choice between street cleaning and starvation, or waitressing and penury. Of course, every worker in this precarious economy is obliged to pretend that they want nothing more than to pick up rubbish or pour lattes for exhausted office workers or whatever it is that pays the bills. It is not enough to show up and do a job: we must perform existential subservience to the work society every day.

In the weary, decades-long "feminist sex wars", the definitional choice apparently on offer is between a radically conservative vision of commercial sexuality - that any transaction involving sex must be not only immoral and harmful, but uniquely so - and a version of sex work in which we must think of the profession as "empowering" precisely because neoliberal orthodoxy holds that all work is empowering and life-affirming. 

That binary often can leave sex workers feeling as if they are unable to complain about their working conditions if they want to argue for more rights. Most sex workers I have known and interviewed, of every class and background, just want to be able to earn a living without being hassled, hurt or bullied by the state. They want the basic protections that other workers enjoy on the job - protection from abuse, from wage theft, from extortion and coercion.

A false binary is often drawn between warring camps of "sex positive" and "sex negative" feminism. Personally, I’m neither sex-positive nor sex-negative: I’m sex-critical and work-negative. 

Take Steinem’s concern that if "sex work" becomes the accepted terminology, states might require people to do it in order to access welfare services. Of course, this is a monstrous idea - but it assumes a laid-back attitude to states forcing people to do other work they have not chosen in order to access benefits. When did that become normal? Why is it only horrifying and degrading when the work up for discussion is sexual labour? 

I support the abolition of sex work  - but only in so far as I support the abolition of work in general, where "work" is understood as "the economic and moral obligation to sell your labour to survive". I don’t believe that forcing people to spend most of their lives doing work that demeans, sickens and exhausts them for the privilege of having a dry place to sleep and food to lift to their lips is a "morally neutral act".

As more and more jobs are automated away and still more become underpaid and insecure, the left is rediscovering anti-work politics: a politics that demands not just the right to "better" work, but the right, if conditions allow, to work less. This, too, is a feminist issue.

Understood through the lens of anti-work politics, the legalisation of sex work is about harm reduction within a system that is always already oppressive. It's the beginning, rather than the end, of a conversation about what it is moral to oblige human beings to do with the labour of their bodies and the finite time they have to spend on earth.

Sex work should be legal as part of the process by which we come to understand that the work society itself is harmful. The liberal feminist insistence on the uniquely exploitative character of sex work obscures the exploitative character of all waged and precarious labour - but it doesn’t have to. Perhaps if we start truly listening to sex workers, as Amnesty has done, we can slow down at that painful, problematic place, and exploitation more honestly - not just within the sex industry, but within every industry.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.