The misogyny of New Labour

5:18 pm - January 11th 2009

by Kate Belgrave    

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Thought I might as well enter the fray – please see Cath Elliiot’s excellent post below for a questioning of the legitimacy of some of the groups I reference.

Again, New Labour trades women for votes… I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time.

One issue that us feminists must get our myriad acts together on this year is the legal status of prostitution.

In the coming weeks, Jacqui Smith – a politically-expedient goody two-shoes, if there ever was one – provides us with a golden opportunity to unite in favour of keeping all aspects of prostitution legal (and I DON’T include include kidnapping, trafficking, or rape in that catch-all, as you’ll see at the end of this piece*).

As many of you will know (debate has raged on a range of great feminist blogs and at the marvellous Shiraz Socialist, where you’ll find a comprehensive background) Smith’s 2009 wheeze is to squeeze further votes out of the righteous arm of the voting public by tightening prostitution laws at the next readings of the Policing and Crime Bill. Sex workers themselves are opposed to Smith’s proposals – they believe, rightly, that criminalising sex work will exclude them from police help, legal recourse and support, and society itself.

It’s the flagrant dismissal of women that gets so many of us: women are utterly expendable in New Labour eyes. The English Collective of Prostitutes and the International Union of Sex Workers reported that they weren’t even contacted by the Home Office about Smith’s proposals.

No surprises there. Sex workers’ liberal views on their own working conditions add nothing to Smith’s blatantly conservative agenda: tis thus that Smith will be forever happy to throw them to the hounds. This Labour government is prepared to sacrifice all manner of women’s rights and protections on the centre-ground altar at which it so slavishly worships.

Smith’s proposals include banning anyone (read men) from paying for sex with people (women) who are working for someone else’s gain – prostitutes who work for pimps, or who have been trafficked into the trade, and so on.

Smith’s frothy – and appallingly unsubstantiated – argument is that the changes will ‘make men think twice’ about paying for sex with prostitutes – or at least, I guess, will compel men to make sure the girl they’ve chosen for the evening signs a consent form, or shows an employment contract, current immigration papers, and unforced enthusiasm for the job at hand.

Roll in Smith’s proposals to give councils better powers to close down brothels, and make kerb-crawling punishable as a first offence, and you have priggish New Labour at its anti-women, anti-liberal, middle-ground-seeking best. By her own admission, the only reason Smith didn’t pursue a full ban on prostitution was that the polls didn’t stack up in favour of such a move (I took this to mean that the numbers showed – perversely for Smith – that the Daily Mail-reading middle-roaders who find kerb-crawling distasteful weren’t so prepared to dismiss the idea of nights out in warm brothels. In other words, New Labour found that there’s prostitution, and there’s prostitution, in the conservative electoral mind).

I keep expecting more from Labour. God knows why. This is the same charming party that apparently thought it acceptable to swap debate on better abortion rights for DUP votes on 42 days’ detention. It is the same party that so recently, and easily, scuppered the hopes of Northern Ireland women for legal abortion – a once in a lifetime (literally) chance to amend the Abortion Act in favour of women. This is the government that so passionately promotes privatisation of public services, and the horrific impact on women’s salaries and working conditions that the private sector inevitably brings.

Which takes me back to my original point – a dialogue needs to be had with feminists who play into the hands of this anti-women government. The marvellous Unity had an excellent piece last year on concerns that a small group of right-leaning feminists had commandeered the review of prostitution law that Smith based her proposals on.

The good news about legal prostitution is ignored by those who find it inconvenient. I draw your attention to the recent New Zealand experiment: prostitution was decriminalised there several years ago, and a recent detailed review was very encouraging – sex workers report feeling safer, women feel that they can call the police and expect a response if they’re in trouble, and the NZ Prostitutes’ Collective is even talking about employment contracts and proper employment protections for women in the sex trade.

There have been attempts dismiss the New Zealand results (and the southern hemisphere) as irrelevant to a UK comparison – but not by prostitutes’ collectives and liberal lawmakers. NZPC founder Catherine Healy was a keynote speaker at a recent House of Commons debate on decriminalising (as was Swedish collective spokesperson Pye Jakobson, and workers themselves describe the New Zealand experience in glowing terms.

*It does not follow that feminists who support the notion of a legal sex trade are indifferent to the crimes that can take place around it – or think, somehow, that protection for victims of those crimes runs second to the rights of sex workers who choose their trade. It is simply that feminists who support a legal sex trade believe that there is nothing to be gained from pushing the trade underground, and know that sex workers say the same thing.

Trafficking is a problem of poverty and too-tough immigration law. And how is the government handling these problems? – well, by slashing the budget for human trafficking investigations and shutting down its leading dedicated police human trafficking unit.

Labour isn’t for girls.

Cross posted at Stroppyblog.

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About the author
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: and @hangbitch
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Reader comments

… wonder if I could post this on Derek Draper’s new blog. Heh heh heh.

you out there, Derek…?

It isn’t New Labour any more – it’s just Labour, and we all know what that means.

You’re right, Rob. I still sometimes romatically draw a distinction. I’m going to stop doing that.

Can’t tell you how upset I was when Labour put the boot into Northern Ireland women last year. Women are just so…. expendable, as far as the government is concerned. Except when it wants our votes, of course.

Hear hear, Kate. Great post.

Cheers Alan.

I understand that the Tories and the Lib Dems oppose Smith’s proposals (someone will correct me if I’m wrong) – why does Labour keep losing the narrative like this?

I have to object to use of the word Conservative to describe the busy bodying attitude to prostitutes evinced by New Labour but what interests me most of all about this post is the suggestion of deals with the DUP. I recall; that New Labour were negotiating with the DUP for their assistance in denying the electorate the referendum they had been promised on Lisbon. This referendum would have been lost and figures out today show it would have been by such a margin as to rock New Labour to its foundations not to say the whole insane Imperial EU dream .Ever since I have wondering what was promised and amazed that nothing was leaked . The deal making went on for a day.This is what PR would be like all the time
“councils better powers to close down brothels, and make kerb-crawling punishable as a first offence, ”
This I do not object to , I don`t mind whores but I do not want them in residential areas and there is no need for needlessly inflicting that environment on families who do not want it .

Kate – New Labour never really had a coherent ‘feminist’ take on policy in the first place, even if it could adopt (occasionally) policies that benefitted women. With Blair not doing ‘ideology’ (read: anything social democratic or socialist), gender politics was just one more thing to be thrown overboard in pursuit of The Project (all those female Labour MPs were a case study in proving that, in the end, it’s ideology that matters).

Re. the sex laws: one other way of looking at it is that New Labour is ‘relaxed’ about sexual identity (see Mandelson, age of consent, civil partnerships), but has a big problem with sexual behaviour (prostitution, porn, S&M, public sex, lap dancing). Anti-‘smut’ campaigns are easy to get rolling, and the strand of feminism that has always been against various forms of sexual behaviour – which is deemed ‘male’ because, for example, women don’t read bondage mags (yeah, right) – converges with New Labour’s cheap populism and the Home Office’s desire to (be seen to) pass laws and create new offences as a ‘governing’ strategy, with the result that whilst it’s okay to be straight or LGBT, you have to be careful what kind of sex you’re having, and where; the number of people involved; what (ahem) toys you use; and whether any money changes hands.

Footnote: Academically-inclined readers should hunt down the essay ‘Thinking Sex’ by Gayle Rubin: it will explain (amongst other things) exactly how a feminist can also be a sexual conservative.

Can someone please explain to me simply why we can’t just legalise and tax prostitution?

I have a feeling that the Tax man will be the most effective method of finding and incarcerating the human scum involved in human sex trafficking.

I’m getting a little lost in the union and Labour discussions…….

I agree with Kate so won’t cross-post here (yet) but I’ve put a few thoughts down at Shiraz Socialist.

Excellent and agreed.

Hey News,

Fair points indeed on DUP deal – when I spoke to women from Alliance for Choice (the Northern Ireland group that was campaigning last year for abortion rights in NI) they seemed very sure that a deal had been done. Indeed, the haste with which debate on the Northern Ireland Abortion Act amendment during that latest HFEB reading was buried rather stood as testimony to such a deal.. Labour couldn’t wait to bury debate around Abortion Act amendments.

Red Pesto – yes, I agree. New Labour has a big problem with sexual behaviour, and I think the main problem it has is a weird notion that there are votes in priggish, anti-liberal legislation… Smith (and Harman, if I remember correctly) spoke of polls showing that people didn’t want a full bank on prostitution. I suspect this rather wrongfooted them – I believe that they feel the middle of the road type voters they’re desperate to snag would go for an all-out ban. Thus, this sort of halfway-ish, ill thought out legislation.

Too right on the point about sexual behaviour: they seem to have a problem with the idea of sex as something that can be seen in any other way than as a “problem” which needs legislation. Quite bizarre and almost Calvinist in its puritanical outlook to this and other “vice” issues. Their first instinct is always to ban, rather than taking their starting point as what is best in terms of the welfare of the vulnerable.

Yes, they obviously think there are votes in a puritanical response – the thing is, that isn’t (or shouldn’t be) their natural electoral ground, and they keep running aground on it. They don’t understand the voters they’re pursuing at all – I bet it never occurred to them that the people they’re desperate to appeal to might see a point to prostitution and might be less enthusiastic about legislation aimed at johns. The result is this strange halfway house, and an opportunity for a conservative arm of feminism to find an in, as it were.

I don’t see this puritanical Labour thing .They have presided over an explosion of Lap dancing clubs pornography as well as promoting women based on their gender. They have also continued to attack marriage . I would have thought this would please you all no end ?

Kate The met trafficking unit isn’t shutting down:

I actually agree with quite a lot of this, and I think you know me well enough to know that I’m under no illusion that this Labour party is in any way a feminist party, or that it holds women’s rights as central to its thinking. After all, wasn’t one of Mandelson’s first suggestions on being welcomed back into the fold to propose ditching the whole idea of flexible working for parents? As for the abortion amendments debacle, I think I’ve made my views on that disgrace pretty clear both here on LC and on Comment is Free.

So yes, I agree, Labour isn’t for me, or indeed for anyone who truly cares about women’s equality. However, and unsurprisingly, I do agree with their stance on this issue.

In a bid to get away from all the ridiculous name-calling and stereotyping that goes on in these discussions, I’d also like to make clear that my approach to this has nothing whatsoever to do with my being an “anti-sex”, “puritan,” “a victorian maiden aunt” “conservative with a small c” or any of the other nonsense epithets that are likely to be flung my way. And nor indeed, with the exception of Douglas Fox and other such sex industry profiteers, do I regard those who argue for legalisation or decriminalisation as all being in the pay of the sex industry,or as pimps, or as just plain misogynists.

I think we can all agree that most of us, on both sides of the divide, are coming at this from a human rights based perspective, and that whether we agree or not on the best way forward, what we all want to see is a way to make women’s lives safer, and an end to the abuse.

So, for another take on the NZ review report, there’s this:

As for sex workers being safer, try telling the family of this young woman:

Since the Prostitution reform act was passed in 2003, New Zealand has been named in successive US State Dept Human Trafficking reports as a destination country for women being trafficked into the sex trade from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and other countries. There have also been reports of an increase in in-country trafficking of both women and children. So the New Zealand model is by no means perfect, and its certainly not the grand solution everyone is claiming it to be.

The Netherlands, which is often held up as the model for a liberal approach to prostitution law, legalised prostitution in 2000, but is now looking at adopting the Swedish model, as legalisation for them has meant a massive increase in sex trafficking as well as in organised crime.

To be honest, I don’t think there is any magic solution that’s going to make all these problems go away, so no matter what model either side cites in their arguments, the other side is going to be able to show evidence of its failures.

I don’t think the government’s plans are perfect by any means, in fact I would have much preferred to see them decriminalise prostitutes, and make a significant commitment to funding routes out projects. But I also believe that this is a good first step, and that by reducing demand, through criminalising kerb crawlers and those who knowingly procure sexual services from the victims of trafficking or coercion, they’re at least headed in the right direction.

Hey Cath,

No – never thought you’d seen a great feminist narrative from the Labour party in recent times!

Good to know they’ve saved the trafficking unit at least – I like to think Smith responded to pressure on that. I understanding the funding’s still a problem, though. My point was, of course, that that sort of funding and (then) unit cut was doubtless designed to appeal to exactly this (possibly) mythical ‘conservative’ voter who Labour so fondly imagines continues to swing the electoral pendulum – the immigrant-hating puritan who dislikes immigration as much as he does sex and is prepared to reward a party that recognises that… I’m not even sure such a voter exists.

And this is the thing. New Zealand most certainly is no haven and trafficking is a problem there. The point is that trafficking isn’t a problem of prostitution as such – it’s a problem of poverty and desperate economic migrants. As I understand it, New Zealand is utilised particularly by traffickers looking to move women from south east asia and sometimes through to Australia. New Zealand is certainly no paradise – on this or other issues.

What it does do, though, is offer a good opportunity to consider a before and after scenario in the case of legal and illegal prostitution. Certainly, the NZPC (which does include sex workers, and has been an influential group in NZ for a long time now) reports positively about decriminalising.
The justice review can be read more than one way: my own reading, and the reading of the NZPC, etc, is that a legal trade has given sex workers better access to the legal protections, health and safety legislation, and employment legislation, that everyone else enjoys. I think I might try and get hold of Catherine Healy this week and get a bit more detail from her.

Trafficking is a different issue in my view, and the Met has admitted Smith’s proposals will be difficult to police in those instances. As long as women are desperate to leave their home countries for what they perceive as a different life in countries like the UK, or New Zealand, etc – and as long as it is difficult for them to do so, in the sense that migrating between some countries is difficult – we will have women who fall into the wrong hands. That’s the issue we need to focus on. I simply don’t believe that some drunken john is going to bother asking the 14-year-old immigrant girl he’s about to rape if she’s been trafficked or not. I doubt he’s thinking in terms of law as it is.

Newmania: I don’t see this puritanical Labour thing .They have presided over an explosion of Lap dancing clubs pornography as well as promoting women based on their gender.

Apart from conflating two different arguments (sex legislation and gender inequality), the reason I’ve added the emphasis is to draw attention to the fact that the significant shifts in sexual culture over ther last 10 years or so have happened despite New Labour, not because of them (e.g. the internet, the defeat of the Home Office over uncensored R18 ‘hardcore’ films, fetish clubs). They didn’t want more lapdancing clubs.


I think we can all agree that most of us, on both sides of the divide, are coming at this from a human rights based perspective, and that whether we agree or not on the best way forward, what we all want to see is a way to make women’s lives safer, and an end to the abuse.

However true this is (and they are worthy goals), it still boils down to what strategy(ies) and/or legislation might be best to achieve it – which is why your final paragraph contradicts the possibility of agreement:

I don’t think the government’s plans are perfect by any means, in fact I would have much preferred to see them decriminalise prostitutes, and make a significant commitment to funding routes out projects. But I also believe that this is a good first step, and that by reducing demand, through criminalising kerb crawlers and those who knowingly procure sexual services from the victims of trafficking or coercion, they’re at least headed in the right direction

As I indicated in my first post on this thread, it would be odd to allow sex workers to work legally, and then spend the rest of the time trying to deny them clients. Secondly, rendering kerb crawling even more illegal than it is now is entirely in keeping with the government’s policy of ratcheting up sentences for crimes across the board (if only to get cheap headlines): a mandatory life sentence for kerb crawling might act as a deterrent, but then it might not. Lastly, as it stands, the government isn’t going to allow ‘knowingly’ (or any word like it) in the proposed legislation – Smith was particularly grudging about acknowledging the possibility of a consensual commercial sexual exchange; using the ‘strict liability’ test is not much more than an inimidatory tactic because she’s not prepared to adopt the ‘Swedish model’ in its entirety. Add in ‘knowingly’ … and the possibility of consenting commercial sex with someone who is not coerced is opened up. An individual’s ‘freedom to’ (or ‘right to’) consent to sex (or not); to consent to engage in particular sexual acts (or not); and to consent to pay or be paid for a service or a legal act (or not) all become possible in the context of commercial sex work – a prospect to which Smith – and I assume, yourself – are clearly opposed.

Cath: isn’t “prostitutionresearch” actually owned by someone who is partisan in this debate?

As for safety, we can all list names on either side. Certain family members of the Ipswich victims have said interesting things too, with which I don’t suppose you’d agree.

The bottom line is that your approach would not achieve even your own aim of somehow legitimising prostitutes whilst de-legitimising their trade. It’s contradictory to its core, sorry to say.

As for sex workers being safer, try telling the family of this young woman:

I didn’t realise you were so willing to adopt Daily Mail style arguments. Nothing like a bit of anecdotal evidence to destroy (what I’m assuming are) accurate studies!

Yes, the stuff site is notoriously conservative, and it’s always possible for a rightwing press to play up the awful stories. I don’t think the young woman’s story is irrelevant – it’s tragic – but I don’t necessarily think it is representative. I’d also ask – how would criminalising prostitution have helped in this instance?


“how would criminalising prostitution have helped in this instance?”

It wouldn’t, and that’s not the point I was trying to make. I was simply pointing out that the NZ model isn’t the be all and end all for women’s safety as some of those arguing for it are trying to make out. As Lee said on the other thread, sometimes bad men do bad things, and not one of these approaches is ever going to stop that.

Cath – Fair point. There have just always been awful murders of sex workers in New Zealand, before and after criminalisation, and indeed of women in general. I think it does comes down to Lee’s point that some bad men do bad things. Those of us who believe in legal prostitution don’t necessarily think that will end the evil aspect of things – but we do think that legalising is inclusive and sends that message. It may be that men who prey on sex workers will think twice if they know that sex workers are protected by legislation and indeed by society. Perhaps it is a perception that sex workers are marginalised that emboldens them to take advantage in the most negative sense.

Well, this is a bit of a damp squid, compared to our Cath’s post, though hardly surprising, really.

Hmmmm… this post seems more an attempt at Labour bashng (which I generally don’t have a problem with) rather than suggesting any way out.

A few points:

1) UK is sexually conservative when it comes to behaviour, I think it would be difficult to argue against that. The Daily Mail brigade isn’t just powerful, its big in numbers.

So to that extent, I’m not entirely surprised New Labour is going down that route on certain issues – after all a significant portion of the Labour constituency is socially conservative (if economically left wing).

2) Are the Libdems or Greens offering better proposals?

3) I’m inclined to agree with Cath on this too. I don’t think a completely open policy will help, and my reading of the Dutch situation is that they have major issues in trafficking and drugs to still deal with as a result of their own laws. I also think it might be a step in the right direction, though we’ll have to see how the evidence bears out. I don’t think New Zealand, which everything seems to be based on, is a good enough comparison.

4) I think name-calling in this case, even accusing Labour of being anti-feminist etc, is unhelpful. Feminists are generally split over this issue aren’t they?

The correct framework should be human rights. So then, is the aim that we want to stop trafficking and exploitation, or we wish to support the prostitution industry? the two might be compatible or mutually exclusive – but they are different issues (as Cath alludes to).

Sunny it’s not “name calling” to call a policy what it is. In this case, a prohibitionist stance on prostitution is conservative. It’s conservative whether the person putting it forward is Jacqui Smith, Mary Dasly, the Pope or Mickey Mouse. In that sense the party doing it is of secondary importance.

I also want to know where this wonderful track record for prohibitionism comes from – given that it’s a policy which has been tried and failed throughout history?

Morning Sunny,

More than happy to be accused of Labour-bashing, and indeed proud to carry the flag in this instance. I’d make the point that calling ‘criticism’ ‘bashing’ is probably a bit of name-calling in itself, though.

I think this government’s record on women’s issues has been disgraceful. That performance (or non-performance) at the end of last year over the Abortion Act amendments during the third reading of the HFEB was an absolute travesty – talk about leaving women with nothing constructive and no way forward. I accept that some people here on this blog support the Labour party and are sensitive to criticism of it, but I don’t think that should prevent others of us for saying it like it is from time to time – I don’t turn up here every day doing that. I expect more from Labour on these liberal issues and am continually disappointed, and even shocked. The party continues to fall over itself to try and appeal to this conservative middle ground – and keeps sacrificing women to do it. No harm in feminists/women pointing that out from time to time – we’re the ones having to wear Labour policy, after all. And I do utterly think that Labour is anti-feminist.

That said, you are right to say that a way forward needs to be found. My own suggestion in this post was that trafficking is an issue of poverty, immigration, and – as you rightly point out – human rights. The solutions lie in that reality somewhere. Am going to look into this in more detail. I think it’s incorrect to say that there’s a sort of tradeoff between trafficking and the rights of prostitution – that’s the point feminists on either side of the debate try to trip each other up on regularly, and there’ll be no way forward if that continues to be the case. Cath is absolutely right when she says that we’re all on the same page in terms of viewing this as a human rights issue. I am simply not of the opinion that criminalising men will make much difference and/or empower women in some of these dreadful situations. Cheers, Kate

So, for another take on the NZ review report

Let’s rephrase that statement to give an accurate reflection of the contents of the link you provide, Cath…

So, for a wholly tendentious, selective and grossly unrepresentative view of the contents of the NZ review report…

Let’s do this properly…

1. Violence in prostitution continued after prostitution was decriminalized in New Zealand, according to the New Zealand Law Review Committee.

2. Stigma and prejudice against prostitution, and the shame associated with prostitution, continued since decriminalization of prostitution in NZ.

What the committee actually had to say was…

The decriminalisation of the sex industry was intended to make it more likely that sex workers would report violent behaviour by clients to the Police, increasing their safety as clients realised that they could no longer ‘get away with it’. It appears that adverse incidents, including violence, continue to be experienced by those in the sex industry. There is conflicting evidence on whether violence is reported more often since decriminalisation, but clearly there is still a marked reluctance amongst sex workers to follow through on complaints. The CSOM report concludes that stigmatisation plays a key role in the non-reporting of incidents. The Committee has commented elsewhere that stigmatisation is still attached to the sex industry, and it will take time before it dissipates.

There has been a change of attitude to each other by some members of the Police and some sex workers. Some individual officers, and some Police districts, have gone out of their way to work with the sex industry, with Christchurch being the obvious example. However, there remains a level of suspicion and unease within the sex industry about the role of the Police, and the value or otherwise of reporting complaints to them. This is the inevitable result of years of the sex industry operating illegally, with the Police seen as posing a threat rather than offering protection. The Committee recognises that simply decriminalising an industry will not produce overnight changes in entrenched attitudes.

In other words, its impossible to accurately assess, as yet, whether levels of violence experienced by prostitutes have declined since legalisation because there’s no accurate pre-legalisation baseline to evaluate the present, and developing, situation against, but there have been some improvements and changes of attitude within law enforcement which could and should lead to significant improvements in the future.

To simply assert that violence and stigmatisation has continued after legalisation, as if this ‘proves’ that the policy is a failure, is to ignore the fact that radical changes of this kind take time to generate a significant impact and that it is, therefore, far to early to get any kind of definitive view of whether legalisation will have desired effect, which is to reduce the levels of violence experience by prostitutes, not eliminate it completely – which is impossible.

If we were to apply that same spurious logic to rape, for which the beginnings of the modern legal framework under which its dealt date back to the 1860’s, then we’d simply scrap the present law and forget all about treating it as a criminal offence because, quite obviously, these laws have had 150 years to do the job they were intend to do and yet they haven’t eliminated the problem.

3. Street prostitution in New Zealand’s cities increased dramatically after prostitution was decriminalized in 2003.

No it didn’t.

There have been anecdotal claims of such an increase, none of which have stood up to scrutiny,,,

the Committee is aware of reports claiming the numbers of sex workers, and in particular street-based sex workers, have increased as a result of decriminalisation. Addressing these claims forms a substantial part of this chapter. Often, the increases have been reported in general terms, based on impressions, rather than citing actual numbers. One exception is the claim that the numbers of street-based sex workers in Auckland increased by 400% as a result of decriminalisation. This claim cannot be substantiated, and was not based on systematic or robust research…

…The figure of a 400% increase has been re-reported several times, demonstrating the ease with which opinion can be perceived as ‘fact’. In his speech to the House during the second reading of the Manukau City Council (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill, Gordon Copeland MP attributed the report of a 400% increase to the Maori Wardens’ submission on the Bill in 2006. The Maori Wardens may have been influenced by an article in the NZ Herald in 2005 in which Mama Tere Strickland was reported to say, ‘Numbers have quadrupled since that Bill [Prostitution Reform Act]’ (New Zealand Herald, 2005).

A 400% increase in the numbers of sex workers was predicted prior to the passage of the PRA, and was also claimed in relation to the law reform in New South Wales. This may be the original source of the idea that numbers of sex workers will, or have, increased by such a margin as a result of law reform. Officials advising the Select Committee were unable to find any statistical evidence to support the claim. In addition, the Select Committee noted that ‘there may appear to be a growth in the industry because it becomes less hidden in nature’ (Select Committee, 2002).

In the Committee’s first report, the number of street-based sex workers in Auckland was estimated to be 360 (PLRC, 2005). An increase of 400% would mean there would now be 1,440 sex workers on Auckland’s streets. The Committee considers that the research undertaken by the CSOM conclusively refutes an increase of this magnitude, with the 2007 figures estimating the number of Auckland street-based sex workers at 230…

…Arguments that decriminalisation has increased the numbers of people in the sex industry are largely founded on the flawed assumption that decriminalisation would increase the numbers of people involved in prostitution. The Committee is satisfied that such assumptions have been proved to be unfounded.

Moving on…

4. There is inadequate protection for children against prostitution in New Zealand since decriminalization.

That’s a matter of opinion not a statement of fact based on evidence.

The actual picture given by the report in Chapter 7 – – is one of improvements in some area but with much more work to be done in others.

5. The US State Department has noted trafficking of women and children since prostitution was decriminalized in New Zealand.

The US State Department has made a number of unverified and unevidenced claims about trafficking in New Zealand based on its definition of trafficking, which New Zealand and several other countries dispute.

Information received from Immigration Service NZ indicates that no situations involving trafficking in the sex industry have been identified (Department of Labour, 2007). In addition, there have been no prosecutions for trafficking under section 98D of the Crimes Act 1961. Immigration only monitors the indoor sector of the industry and does not check the employment conditions or immigration status of street-based sex workers. The Committee is satisfied, on the basis of information received from NZPC and other NGOs involved with street-based sex workers, that during its period of investigation, there were no internationally trafficked women working as street-based sex workers in New Zealand.

The Committee is aware that some people working in the sex industry are doing so in breach of their immigration status. The Committee does not endorse this illegal activity. However, it is also concerned that these sex workers are not protected under the PRA and may be vulnerable to exploitation. The Committee considers the prohibition on non-residents working in the sex industry, coupled with New Zealand’s geographical isolation and robust legal system, provides a protection against New Zealand being targeted as a destination for human traffickers.

US foreign policy on both drug use and prostitution has, since the 1920, been based on pushing its hard-line prohibitionist stance onto the international community by every means possible, and the US State Department is, of course, the foreign policy arm of the US government.

As such, its pronouncements on New Zealand, or any other country which declines to adopt its preferred approach have to be taken with a very large dose of salt.

“UK is… conservative when it comes to [sexual] behaviour”

What, just because it is too cold to get busy on the back of your moped? That doesn’t seem to deter the doggers.

I’d say we are reserved about what we do behind closed doors, but we’re definitely not conservative. What we admit in public to doing and what we actually do are two completely different things.

Does anyone care to speculate on Jacqui Smith’s preferred sexual proclivities?


Hi Kate,

Hope you’re well. I think this is a slightly weak example for the argument that New Labour is ‘anti-women’. A majority of women don’t actually agree with the IUSW argument for decriminalisation and at least half, according to the surveys, support what the government is doing – are they all ‘anti-women’ and ‘misogynists’ as well?

I remembering hearing about the Liverpool local elections in (iirc) 2004 – the Liverpool Lib Dems made the centre piece of their campaign a vicious and very, very effective attack on what they called ‘New Labour’s plan for a brothel on every street corner’ – whatever the merits of the idea, it was absolute political poison and the people most vehemently opposed to it were women. Some will have been Daily Mail readers, but I suspect not all that many – in many more cases they were women who didn’t want themselves or other members of their family to be harrassed while walking down their own street by men who were looking to pay for sex.

As for your other examples, it reads a bit like ‘everything the government does which is bad is an unforgiveable betrayal and everything good that they do doesn’t count’. For example, if privatising public services, hence reducing levels of pay is an example of their anti-women stance, surely increasing the number of public sector workers (and their pay and conditions) is a point for the defence? Women workers tend to be low paid, so disproportionately likely to benefit from the miniumum wage, more likely to have no savings in old age, so benefit disproportionately from Pension Credit. Mothers gain from tax credits, greater maternity leave and the massive improvements in childcare provision. Did New Labour do all these things because it was misogynist but just really, really incompetent at hating women or something?


Fantastic post, Kate, I’m entirely on board. Mind if I link?



1) UK is sexually conservative when it comes to behaviour, I think it would be difficult to argue against that. The Daily Mail brigade isn’t just powerful, its big in numbers.

Yet the government pretty much won the argument re. LGBT rights (you could argue that the Mail lost once out lesbian/gay MPs won seats in 1997). Seen that way, you could argue that there isn’t a ‘rights culture’ re. sexual behaviour, but it’s hard to see how you can make a case for whom you have sex with, and then start trying prosecute people for the kind of sex they consent to having, unless your idea of sex is entirely ‘vanilla’ – which is where sexual conservatism (whether of politicians, of religious groups or of feminists) comes into the equation.

Hi all,

Don – I want to respond to you in a bit more detail than I can atm – am at work, so will get back into it tonight. Appreciate yr commentary though – lots there!

Laurie – be lovely to be linked to – thanks pet!!!! excellent article on wee btw. |LOL. will link to it myself upon my return home.

Unity – genius. You are brilliant.

… but quickly, Don – I think most definitely, a lot of the poor effects Labour policy has had on women has happened in a fallout sense – fallout from policy, rather than the point of policy itself. Would debate the numbers in support argument, though, largely because the numbers can be hurled either way – the vast majority of people are in favour of legal abortion, and the majority in favour of liberal amendment, but the govt ignored those numbers. It ignores the numbers that don’t suit and embraces the ones that do. I’d also argue that the coverage in favour of ISUW etc has been minimal in comparison with the coverage of Jacqui Smith’s initiatives – that point came up in Cath’s thread several times. That being the case, it’s all about influence. The women seeking legal abortion in NI said they faced the same problem.

Which is a rather simplistic take – let’s get into it this evening. Best regards, Kate.

Kate, I’m on board with with Northern Ireland women’s betrayal on the abortion vote. No doubt about it. I’m just saying I don’t necessarily buy the comparisons to NZ… just because its an English speaking country doesn’t mean the culture and and the way people react and how other factors (such as our closeness to Europe) will play out.

Which is why I’m probably more agreed with Donpaskini too…

Hey man,

Will get into it more when I get home. I think (if memory serves) that your comments last year were more to do with the trafficking argument not stacking up in a comparison to NZ, because of course trafficking is a different beast in the Southern Hemisphere – different source countries, etc. My argument is that the same sorts of issues lead to trafficking – ie, women desperate to get out of whichever country they’re in. The NZ eg does bear some comparison in a before and after sense, but I’ll get into that more this evening.

Thanks, Kate, for a very constructive post.

The two polls conducted by the Government gave the overall message that women have the right to choose whether they wish to be sex workers or not, and that the public is opposed to criminalisation either of such women or their customers. The only support for criminalisation was as part of a package to combat human trafficking.

Whilst one case of trafficking is one too many, all available statistics suggest the extent of human trafficking for sex has been vastly overestimated. Furthermore, the criminalisation in whole or in part of clients is the opposite of what is required to combat trafficking, as clients are a crucial source of information on the whereabouts of sex trafficking victims.

The Policing and Crime Act is a Traffickers’ Charter, as by adding clients to brothel owners and managers and the traffickers themselves to the list of those criminalised, it puts the final nail in the coffin on the fate of trafficking victims in the absence of a degree of police vigilance which is totally impractical for financial and other practical reasons.

More on this, with sources, in the stories on my blog at


A number of points:

You sum up the tone of my original post as ‘everything the government does which is bad is an unforgiveable betrayal and everything good that they do doesn’t count’.

I think that’s a bit simplistic – weak, if you don’t mind me borrowing the word that you applied to my argument.

The point I’m making is that I believe there is an institutionalised misogyny in this government, and that it has been necessary for government to develop it to champion policies that appeal to the Daily Mail readers that Sunny refers to (and indeed excuses Labour for accommodating when he writes that he’s ‘not entirely surprised New Labour is going down that route on certain issues… a significant portion of the Labour constituency is socially conservative (if economically left wing.’).

It is my feeling that Labour (here and in countries like New Zealand) has compromised core values in order to deliver the socially-conservative modernisation programme that it believes middle of the road Daily Mail readers want, and want to vote for.

Women’s priorities (and free, legal abortion is most certainly among them) are necessarily compromised in such a scenario, because those priorities (free contraception, free abortion, free childcare, flexible working environments, full legal protection as prostitutes, etc) require a socially liberal policy platform that, put simply, clashes with the socially conservative one that Labour still pursues (and surely clashed violently with any deal done with the DUP over 42 days’ detention).

I do indeed believe that the privatisation programme that Labour has so passionately – I would say rabidly – championed has had a detrimental effect on women (note Fremantle careworkers, Care UK careworkers, outsourced cleaners, Hammersmith and Fulham leisure centre staff – the list goes on). Let’s take it down to basics. There is one reason – and one reason only – why private companies pursue public sector outsource contracts: to make money. They do this by sweating the assets, and there are scant protections in place to make sure that the salaries of the lowest-paid workers (who tend to be female) aren’t among those sweated assets.

TUPE is next to useless in my experience (remember – I was a trade union activist) – companies can dismantle TUPE on business grounds, and I have reported instances where that has been the case on this site. I’ve asked Labour MPs (Andrew Dismore was one) why Labour didn’t make the shoring up of TUPE (and thus the protection of lower-paid female workers’ salaries) a priority, and was essentially told that anybody concerned about the robustness of TUPE needed to take their individual concerns through the tribunal process. He wouldn’t accept that Labour had a responsibility.



I have to say that I found this comment:

‘women workers tend to be low paid, so disproportionately likely to benefit from the miniumum wage, more likely to have no savings in old age, so benefit disproportionately from pension credit’

almost obscenely misrepresentative, and not something I’d normally expect from you. I really don’t want to get personal, because I have a great deal of respect for you, but that made me angry. The truth is that women have been brought DOWN to the minimum wage by Labour’s privatisation programme – they tend to be low paid because Labour has inflicted that on them.

The Fremantle careworkers are a classic example. When they were employed by Barnet council, they received an above-minimum wage rate and an all-important weekend enhancement – which was the way that most of them managed to make a reasonable living wage and care for their children (by working weekends on time and a half and double time, they earned ok money and were able to leave their children in the care of partners, etc). Fremantle dismantled TUPE, reduced the basic wage, and eliminated the weekend enhancements. I don’t think those women would be much comforted by the bone you try to throw when you say that now that they’re sliding down the salary scale, more of them are getting the minimum wage – or that they can look forward to pension credits because their new lowered wages will cut the value of their pensions to such an extent that they’ll be entitled to pension credits. That’s a very smarmy way of selling it, Dan.

I have to say too that I’m keen to hear about these massive improvements in childcare provision. Are you referring to the nursery services Labour closed in Hammersmith and Fulham in the 1990s, by any chance?

Actually, I know what you’re referring to, but I’ll leave you to say it. I’ll take you up on it then.

Anyway. This all brings me to the point I was making in the original post – that Labour is prepared to compromise the programmes that women require to achieve an equal footing with men, and that I believe I can see a narrative there. To say this is not to attack the idea of a Labour party – it is to attack the Labour party’s current incarnation. You strike me as socially responsible and true Labour at heart, so I’m interested to know why you passionately support the bastardised version of the party that we’re currently having to tolerate. Surely, it’s only by honestly assessing the performance of the current Labour party that a better one is built?


Hi Kate,

Fair points all, though we’re slightly at cross purposes. I’m not arguing that everything is great or that there is nothing to criticise, but equally I think there are a number of policies which don’t fit the idea of “an institutionalised misogyny” or a “socially-conservative modernisation programme”.

There are now more people employed in the public sector then 5 or 10 years ago (65% of them women), and on average they have higher pay and better employment rights (take maternity leave, for a start). If Labour is to be criticised when it allows jobs to be privatised on worse conditions, surely it is doing the right thing when creating millions of good quality, flexible jobs in the public sector?

As for childcare, I don’t know what you thought I was going to say, but there are twice as many childcare places as 10 years ago, some in fantastic new Children’s Centres and some provided by voluntary and community groups. Again, if Hammersmith council is to be criticised for cutting childcare places in the 1990s, surely Labour deserves credit for doing the opposite and increasing the number of places?

What happened to the Fremantle care workers was and is totally wrong, but it’s hard to blame the minimum wage for this (indeed, who knows how far wages would have been forced down without a legal minimum). And their experience was not typical of most care workers. Before the minimum wage was introduced, 40% of care workers were getting less than £3.60/hour. The research into the impact of the minimum wage on the care sector found that “the minimum wage had taken a big bite out of profit levels in the sector. At the same time, that there was no “evidence that low wage firms were forced out of business by the higher wage costs resulting from the minimum wage.” One explanation for this seeming contradiction was that the minimum wage had forced firms to moderate excess profits and channel them back into the wages of low paid workers.” That’s redistribution from businesses to low paid, mainly female workers, a good thing, right?

Similarly with Pension Credit, there are a lot of women (and men) who are now for the first time in their lives able to live in dignity, and who have more money then they’ve ever had at any point in their lives. That’s not being misrepresentative, and I don’t think they’d agree with the idea of ‘the misogyny of New Labour’.

I agree completely with honestly assessing the performance of the current Labour Party, and I’m always keen to criticise when I think they are doing the wrong thing. But I think any honest assessment has to include what they’ve done which is good (even if inadequate), not just what they did wrong.

More to say about the challenges of getting popular support for a socially liberal policy platform (which I think the Liverpool example highlights quite well), but that’s probably enough for now 🙂

Hey DP,

Apologies for the delay in the response – madness @ work, etc.

I think you are right to say that we are at cross purposes at the moment, and I think we may be for a while… again, I don’t want this to sound insulting, because it certainly isn’t aimed at you in a personal sense, but there are days when I wonder if Labour party members and I occupy the same universe….

You say that there are now more people employed in the public sector then 5 or 10 years ago (65% of them women), and on average they have higher pay and better employment rights.

I wonder if this statement is as useful as it could be, and to whom you refer. I supposed we can both massage the figures til the cows come home… I’d first like to ask you where these extra people are, and where they sit in the structures – there may well be more people in the public sector, but the last set of numbers I examined implied that a lot of them were at rather senior levels – they’re not exactly the housing officers and social workers that do the hands-on. (The number of people earning more than £50k a year in the public sector has increased and increased….) 65% of them may well be women, but they’re not the ones the majority in senior management jobs. And what of the 100,000 civil service posts that Labour cut in the last few years…? Have those been massaged out or in of your assessment…?

I’m guessing Labour counts all these new public sector bankers we’ve suddenly got on the public payroll as public sector staff? And the personnel it’s had to engage to keep killing all those Iraqis?

Regarding flexible working – again, our experiences seem to be different, or, at the very least, the numbers and the reality don’t bear much relation. My experience of that legislation has not been good, all in all. Women who apply for flexible working must put a good business case which management has complete power to accept, or not accept. There is no rule – management can simply make the decision and that decision is final. I’ve represented women who’ve been desperate for flexible working opportunities – and been turned down point blank by managers who refuse even to offer a detailed explanation. The law is guidance – it ain’t binding. When push comes to shove, it’s got about as much grunt as TUPE (ie, very little).

Regarding childcare places – in Hammersmith at least, it was a Labour administration that eliminated nurseries in the early 90s. Claiming that there are now twice as many places as there were ten years ago is a little cute as a result.

I return again to the point about institutionalised misogyny and say again that an administration that thinks a deal with the notoriously anti-abortion DUP is a greater priority than females lives makes a fairly strong statement.

Etc. A few thoughts, anyway. Happy to chat more about it if you like.

Hi Kate,

Here’s another way of trying to explain what I’m getting at. I’m not saying that things are perfect, merely that they are a lot better than in 1997. So as a thought experiment, here’s five changes which a future government would have to make in order to restore the status quo before New Labour:

1. Slash benefits for lone parents, in some cases halving the amount that they and their kids have to live on.
2. Sack just over 1 million women workers, including 963,000 in the public sector. These include tens of thousands of teaching assistants and nurses.
3. Halve paid maternity leave entitlement to four and a half months.
4. Reduce by a third the amount of money that the poorest pensioners have to live on, and take away their free bus passes and winter fuel allowance.
5. Halve the number of childcare places and close nearly 2,500 children’s centres.

Now I’m sure we’d agree that any government which in fact tried to do any of those things was mounting a ferocious attack on women’s rights? And if undoing these New Labour policies would be an attack on women’s rights, surely that means that their record includes some really positive measures which have helped women over the past 11 and a bit years?

Good analysis don, however there’s something to be said for looking forward. Tony Blair’s government did indeed do those things. Does Gordon Brown’s government look set to build on them? No. Are they, in fact, putting barriers in the way and trading women’s rights for political partisan ends? Yes.

42. Yvette Doll

“Kate, I’m on board with with Northern Ireland women’s betrayal on the abortion vote.”

Having a pro-prostitution political affiliate of the brothel operating UVF death squads on the pro-choice ticket was probably not really going to do it.

It is beyond doing in Northern Ireland.


43. Yvette Doll

“because of course trafficking is a different beast in the Southern Hemisphere”

Not entirely true, often the same traffickers, also ( and not really related) some the sex offending in NZ began in Britain in the 1960s and migrated.

Pedophile groups for example can be forty years in the operating. NZ was producing child pornography for the same market in Holland in the 1960s, with people who knew others in Britain.

They are not goldfish. SEx trafficking is global, and places like NZ allow traffickers to ‘add value’ and be more open and corporate.

It is a pimp friendly country.


44. Yvette Doll

“That’s a matter of opinion not a statement of fact based on evidence.”

There is inadequate protection for children against prostitution in New Zealand

In NZ the strip clubs could ( nd possibly still do) use litttle girls.

Helen Clarke and Goff advised that I go away when I asked. Prostitution reform was a pimp lead scam with a lot of harassment.

Goff should have been suspended for what he said in parliament in relation to CEDAW

The passage of the bill was celebrated by the pimps and their allies in brothels, none ofthe workers got the day off.

Beson-Pope was what it said on the tin, that was Helen Clarke. The Tony Blair of the southern hemisphere.

NZ is a pimp friendly place.


New questions for Benson-Pope

By David Fisher

David Benson Pope
Cabinet Minister David Benson Pope was last night under fresh political scrutiny after new complaints were made by former female pupils.

Four former pupils gave statements to the Herald on Sunday about incidents on a South Island school camp in 1997 which they said they were upset about.

The incidents included Mr Benson Pope, then a teacher at Bayfield High School in Dunedin, entering the female dormitories and showers without warning, while 14-year-old girls were undressed.

45. Yvette Doll

“US foreign policy on both drug use and prostitution has, since the 1920, been based on pushing its hard-line prohibitionist stance onto the international community by every means possible”

Gross exaggeration, G/TIP went out the window with Iraq. The US can’t even persuade allies to arrest pedophiles, so that is in your imagination.


46. Yvette Doll

“Sex workers themselves are opposed to Smith’s proposals – they believe, rightly, that criminalising sex work will exclude them from police help, legal recourse and support, and society itself.”

What, are you given a bung for this drivel?

If Douglas Fox is a sex worker I am a steamship. So go tell it to somebody who isn’t a moron. There is no polite way to put that nonsense down.

That agency they have was supplying ” the youngest escort on the books to dress up as a schoolgirl” service for the teaching profession in Northumbria.

And they knew it was wrong, I refer to ‘John’ telling his fan club how iffy it was despite

“why squirm so uncomfortably about the headmaster who rang up requesting the youngest”

The fact the hypocrites were flaming well doing it.


Never Shuts Up

“My second point. Schoolgirl. A few years an agency had pictures of one of their girls in pyjama/short shirt type clothing pulling along a big teddy bear. I thought it was appalling. I was physically disgusted at it. WTF were they trying to attract. Those pics remained online for a good few months before being pulled. Should girls offering escorting scenarios such as “School Girl” be banned too.”

John ( Fox’s partmer) knew it was wrong, the agency just wanted that teacher’s money.

‘John’s denial, though, was much more interesting: an odd hybrid of legalistic game-playing and genuine psychological resistance to the notion that he was selling sex. It wasn’t that he didn’t know perfectly well what was going on (otherwise why squirm so uncomfortably about the headmaster who rang up requesting the youngest escort on the books to dress up as a schoolgirl?)’

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