It’s time Ted took on the BlackBerry Bruiser

Miliband was miffed to see Balls engrossed in sending texts.

A BlackBerry ban isn't exactly a Clause Four moment but Ed Miliband needs to start somewhere to stamp his authority on Labour. During
a shadow cabinet meeting not every frontbencher listened raptly as Ted addressed his lieutenants. The young leader was miffed to see his former Treasury line manager, Ed "Bruiser" Balls, more engrossed in sending texts and emails.

“I know BlackBerrys are interesting," said a hurt Ted, interrupting both himself and the shadow chancellor, "but so are people." Bruiser doesn't do blushing but looked up and smiled apologetically. Chairman Ted resumed and, giggled my snout, so did Bruiser, who moments later was tapping
his phone again. Sounds to me like an authority issue.

Never bet on a tip from David Cameron. The people's toff told a St Patrick's Day shindig in the House of Lords that Ireland had beaten England at cricket but England would beat Ireland at rugby. They didn't, England suffering a 24-8 thumping in Dublin. Citizen Dave will need to keep his head down next time he stays with his chum over the Irish Sea. The chap owns a castle, naturally.

The cessation of foreign hostilities between Cameron and Miliband to co-operate over Libya doesn't extend to government spinners. Four minutes into Mili's Commons speech, the No 10 mouthpiece Steve Field and the political operative Gabby Bertin led out hacks who'd spent 46 minutes listening to the PM to hear more of the Downing Street case at a lobby briefing. The Pied Piper tactic isn't new. Alastair Campbell did the same to the Tories and old hands say Maggie Thatcher's uncivil servant, Bernard Ingham, prevented journos listening to Labour before that. They're never all in this together when it comes to gaining a slender PR advantage.

The "Duchess of Devizes", the Tory banker Claire Perry, isn't being allowed to forget her tearoom outburst after failing to catch John Bercow's eye - "What have I got to do to be called by the Speaker? Give him a blow job?" Perry's impeccable Gaelic pronunciation of the Scottish Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency (Western Isles) prompted a voice on the Labour benches to shout out: "Great oral skills, Claire." The informant swears the Cameron cutie swallowed hard and continued her speech without hesitation.

The words hoist, own and petard sprang to mind when a gleeful reader rang to point out that I had inadvertently referred to Osborne's ill-disciplined trainee attack puppy Matthew Hancock as Michael. Mike Hancock is, of course, the Libido Democrat from Pompey South whose young blonde Russian femme fatale was accused of spying, while Matt Hancock is a West Suffolk Tory boy with a penchant for slashing public services. I wonder who was most offended.

The pink ribbons to hang swords from pegs in the members' cloakroom is parliament as a heritage theme park. In times of war they're used by MPs to express dissent. Thus, a child's plastic broadsword appeared on one of the hooks after the start of military action in Libya. The dangling toy is a weapon of mass derision.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 28 March 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Why Libya? Why now?

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

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.