Why Brexit?

I’m a Remainer; naturally, I’m unhappy about the Brexit vote. How did we, collectively, get to vote for Brexit? Let’s look at some of the issues.

People voted because of ideology, thinking that the EU was just a ‘bad thing’, and that Britain would be better ‘Leaving and Taking Control’. Others voted because they believed the deliberate untruths they had been told; that the borders would be closed to foreigners, though the Brits would be free to move anywhere in the EU; and that there was a financial bonus from leaving – £350 million a week for the NHS. (Almost immediately after the result, these promises were shown, by the Leave campaign themselves, to be false.) Others registered a protest, saying in effect that the EU needed reform. Some voted because of the effects of austerity, and continuing unemployment and poor job prospects. It’s clear enough that, in England, the economically disadvantaged areas voted to leave.

And things just got worse; the Prime Minister resigned, the Tory party began a process of selection only for some potential candidates to withdraw before their application had been lodged; there was blood on the floor, and many knives in many backs. And the Opposition front bench resigned, though the leader didn’t, leaving the Labour party in an existential crisis.

What we never had was any real clarity about what Leave meant; posters on billboards and on buses, and a leaflet implying that Turkey was poised to join the EU – along with Iraq and Syria. By contrast, during the 2014 referendum on independence for Scotland, that government produced a 650 page White Paper on the implications of independence. And once the Leave vote was announced, the leaders then appeared looking crestfallen at the result – as well they might, for they didn’t really want it. And now, nobody seems to have any clear or comprehensive idea what leave actually means, how this inchoate idea can be achieved, or even how we are going to get somewhere that we don’t know where it is.

And then, not unexpectedly, the Scottish National Party talked of another independence referendum. In the first, voters in Scotland were assured that the only way to remain the the EU was to vote to remain in the UK. Meanwhile, in N Ireland the First Minister talked of the vote across the UK as a whole, while the Deputy First Minister talked of another border poll. Unable to formulate a common, agreed policy on what’s best for NI, the leaders have left it to senior civil servants and gone off of 9 weeks holiday.

What is the United Kingdom? Originally, there were several kingdoms in what we now recognise as England. Gradually, this country was unified, and then conquered Wales to form Britain. After a disastrous foray in colonialism, Scotland – up till then an entirely separate and independent country – joined a union with Britain to form a country called Great Britain. Ireland had long been a quasi-independent place, with its own parliament, but because of Poyning’s Law, Britain, later Great Britain, always had the final say. At the beginning of the 19th century, Ireland too joined a union with Great Britain, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Finally, in the early 1920s, 26 counties of Ireland acquired ‘Home Rule’ and later full independence as a republic. The UK was renamed as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Throughout these changes, it’s clear that England was always the strongest part, the place where real power and control lay; and the idea that in a union of countries England remains the most important player – the only player – still persists in the collective unconsciousness of the English. The Secretary of State for N Ireland is quite clear; the UK as a whole (translation: England) must collectively leave the EU, the wishes of NI or even Scotland are of no account, there will be no special pleading for the regions. Even getting the regions to the negotiating table might be difficult.

So when we talk of ‘British’ values, or of ‘Britain’ leaving the EU, those in England think it’s England which is leaving. The Scots are more nationalistic, unwilling to blindly accept the imposition of a Brexit which they neither sought or desired. And in N Ireland, the political parties, as usual, are split; unionists stress the totality of the vote across the UK, others stress that N Ireland as a whole voted to remain.

So, if there is confusion about who exactly wants to leave the EU, what of the reasons? Already, some protest voters are expressing ‘Bregret’; ideologues aren’t likely to listen to reason or counter-arguments. Look at the geographical spread in England, by far the most populous part of the UK. London and some other metropolitan areas voted to stay; but the disadvantaged north-east, east Anglia and so on voted to leave, along with the leafier parts of the ‘green and pleasant land’. What did these leavers think the EU had or hadn’t done for them?

They probably saw a ’swarm’ of immigrants, people prepared to work even if categorised as work-shy scroungers who only came to the UK to claim benefits. Never mind the facts – these people aren’t scroungers – it’s the perception that counts. Likewise, places such as the north-east of England and much of the industrial heartlands have seen their manufacturing industries decline and fail. Partly, this came through the Thatcher government taking on the unions and winning; but Thatcher’s mistake, if it was a mistake and not deliberate policy, was simply to ignore such regions, for after all they didn’t vote Tory so they didn’t matter. More recently, we have had ‘austerity’, a gradual reduction in benefits and welfare generally, and in the last 30 years average earnings have barely increased. What happened to the ’thirty glorious years’ after the end of the second world war? Why has the pay of managers greatly increased so that some of them earn in a day what the average worker gets in a week?

These effects are the neo-liberal economic model in action. This model was born around 1947 from the work and ideas of Hayek and the Austrian school, and encouraged by Friedman and the Chicago school. They believed that the market was always right and that business should operate almost unfettered by regulation; that government should be small, and not really be a service provider. Their ideas were put into action in the Thatcher and Reagan years, and indeed, provided early economic growth and wealth creation. Such wealth, we were told, would ‘trickle down’ to enrich all. It hasn’t worked out like that. Rather, the managers of banks and business saw opportunities to enrich themselves, and did so enrich themselves while seeking cost-cutting measures from their staff; zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships are just two examples of neo-liberalism in practice. Outsourcing is another; workers in China and Asia, having had little in the past, could have slightly more by working for global corporations, even the conditions of their work were such that no western government would accept them – but of course, business must operate unfettered. No matter that so many workers try to take their own lives, no matter that 1,000 women in a garment sweatshop can be crushed to death; business must be free to operate.

And austerity is just another child of neo-liberalism; some of the effects are remarkable. The idea that imposing austerity, for which read poverty, on a country permits that country to pay off its debts is, well, strange thinking. (In the past, debtors were sent to prison in the UK; this didn’t allow them to work to pay off their debts.) And if countries had debts, well the lenders had to be protected from their bad decisions; the bailouts that such countries receive may well go to the country, only to immediately find their way into the lender banks; banks, unlike you or me, are ‘too big to fail’. Even the IMF has form in this; in the past they decided that health care fell into the category of ‘luxury goods’ and could therefore be reduced. The didn’t reckon on increased outbreaks of disease. At least, there is now evidence that the IMF has recognised that their ideas on austerity were wrong.

The neo-liberal economic theory has a firm hold throughout most of the western world; there is no sign of any successor or better or fairer policy. Economic policy in the EU will continue, as it will in the UK; there is no evidence that lessons have been learned. Neo-liberalism reigns supreme, even to the extent that universities don’t teach or suggest alternatives. Economists who don’t agree don’t get positions in departments of Economics, rather the few gravitate to others where then can disguise their ideas under the heading of, say, ‘social geography’.


So, Brexit is the symptom but neo-liberalism is the disease. Why don’t we cure the disease?

A Case of Appendicitis

London was abuzz with excitement and expectation in late June, 1902. The coronation of the new king, Edward VII was to take place on the 26th in Westminster Abbey where monarchs had been crowned for a millennium. Vast swathes of the crowned heads of Europe were to attend; not for nothing was Edward known as the ‘uncle of Europe’. Edward had reinvented the role of the monarchy after the dreary years of Victoria; he reimagined all the pomp and ceremonial associated with the coronation; and every ceremonial we see today is very much his legacy. All sorts of souvenirs of the day were available; flats overlooking the processional route were being rented out for extortionate sums, and all traders were expecting a bumper time.

Meanwhile, in a room not far from the Abbey, a conclave of physicians and surgeons was discussing the illness of a patient with him. The patient was middle aged, distinctly obese, a heavy smoker and a known glutton and heavy drinker. Despite these considerable handicaps, the advisability of an operation was being taken seriously—but not by the patient.

His illness had begun 10 days previously. He had had abdominal pain which seemed to settle low down on the right side of the belly. He felt rather better soon enough, well enough to go for a drive in his carriage. However, although a mass had later developed in the belly, his medical advisers were against an operation, and the mass seemed to resolve, and his condition similarly improved. But, after a particularly gargantuan banquet on the evening of the 23rd—eight large courses, each with their own wine—his condition markedly worsened, leading to the consultation on the morning of the 24th June.

Despite their entreaties, the fat patient refused to change his mind; tempers began to rise. The king—for it was he—felt he knew his responsibilities, his duty. “I must keep faith with my people,” he said, “I must go to the Abbey”. Frederick Treeves, well known for his association with the ‘Elephant Man’, was one of the surgeons in attendance. Treeves was not a man to suffer fools or monarchs gladly; he was not a man to be cowed into silence by the majesty of the vast imperial presence. He replied,

Then, Sire, you will go in your coffin.

The king acquiesced. A room was made ready in Buckingham Palace for the procedure, an operating table was sourced, and later that morning the king was anaesthetised and prepared. Treeves, assisted by Lord Lister, a septuagenarian who had suffered a stroke, drained an appendix abscess; the king’s appendix was not removed. During the procedure the king had a respiratory arrest; his airway became blocked and he stopped breathing. The anaesthetist, Sir Frederick Hewitt, grabbing the king’s beard and pulling mightily upwards on it, reopened the airway. (The operating table, after much use in the RVH, is now in the Department of Surgery at QUB.)

The following day, the king was able to sit in bed and smoke a cigar; he made an uncomplicated recovery. The coronation, inevitably postponed, was held on 9th August. It was a much more muted affair; the king was well enough to be able to support the totally decrepit Archbishop of Canterbury during the ceremony.


The king’s illness and operation was widely publicised; appendicectomy subsequently became very popular, almost fashionable, even if the king’s—or what was left of it—remained inside him.

Though certainly known for centuries, appendicitis was first scientifically described in the latter part of the 19th century. Operations at this time were rare; Treeves was the first surgeon in England to perform an appendicectomy. Whether the publicity given to the king’s illness meant that appendicitis was more often correctly diagnosed, or whether there was a real increase in incidence is unclear.

The primary reason for appendicectomy is to prevent peritonitis, the infection and inflammation of the lining of the abdomen; untreated, this is fatal. The appendix is a blind ended, hollow, worm-like appendage at the start of the large bowel, and lies in the lower right side of the belly. The natural history of appendicitis isn’t clearly known, as operation is advised when the condition is diagnosed, but probably follows these courses. Inflammation begins inside the appendix, and gradually spreads through the walls of the organ. Central, crampy abdominal pain moves to the right iliac fossa as the inflammation involves the whole organ and the local peritoneum in the area. There is usually a low-grade rise in temperature; it is at this stage that the organ is removed. This inflammation may resolve over a period of a few days, or persist and worsen so that the appendix ruptures, either directly into the peritoneal cavity, or locally forming an abscess. The abscess may resolve or settle, or it may rupture into the abdomen. In retrospect, it seems probable that the king suffered an episode of appendicitis 10 days before his operation, which initially improved, only then to worsen as a localised inflammatory mass. This too settled, until the banquet on the evening of the 23rd when it was reinvigorated, at which stage it was clearly an abscess.

Although operation is the gold standard method of treatment, a report from US navy submarines included a description of 100 sailors who had symptoms of appendicitis and who were treated with antibiotics; all survived without complications. Clearly, some of the seamen may not have had appendicitis. Whether antibiotic treatment is superior to operation in more normal practice in a properly equipped hospital remains unclear (here); overall, opinion still favours operation over antibiotics, in part because there cannot be recurrent episodes. Such conservative management will still require observation in a hospital for a few days; the overall cost savings are likely to be imaginary. And, of course, the diagnosis of appendicitis may be wrong. The appendix can be removed at an open operation, or by keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery. Recovery after keyhole surgery is quicker, but specialised equipment is needed. Whether, after an appendix abscess has been drained, the appendix should be removed at a second operation is uncertain; some experts think that the inflammation has destroyed the appendix, others fear a further attack.

There’s a further very clear lesson from the king’s story; that no matter how elevated the person may be, no matter how deep the purse of a private patient may be, no matter if the patient is the humblest peasant in the land, they should all be treated equally on the merits of their illness. The patient should be able to make an informed judgement about the benefits and drawbacks of any operation. And if this demands the telling of brutal ’truth to power’, well, so be it.


Charles Kennedy, the former leader of the LibDem political party died recently. There have been lots of tributes to him, such as Gerry Lynch’s (here) on Slugger, which also references Alistair Campbell’s. Remarkably, while a certain ‘reading between the lines’ is usually necessary with obituaries, I haven’t read anything about Charles Kennedy that wasn’t straightforward, or other than complimentary about him, while recognising his ‘problem’. Alistair Campbell, you will recall, was Tony Blair’s ‘spin doctor’ and much reviled for his activities; I can’t say that I’ve ever been a fan of his. And yet, his blog piece is surely one of the most humane pieces of writing from one politician about another. And he isn’t afraid to talk about the ‘problem’ that they shared.

The problem was the demon they both shared, alcohol; it lead to Kennedy’s downfall as LibDem leader.

The association between alcohol and politicians and artistic celebrities is well known; is there a link between their drive and ambitions and their problems, or are they self-destructive prisoners of their fate?  In the UK, the Labour politician George Brown was frequently ‘tired and emotional’; Reginald Maudling wasn’t any better; what about Churchill or Pitt the younger? What of Brendan Behan, Amy Winehouse, George Best, Dylan Thomas, Truman Capote, F Scott Fitzgerald and many, many more. Is there a connection between the creative artist and alcoholism? And if so, what is it?

Alcohol and humans have a long history; alcohol has been found in prehistoric remains. It’s not at all clear when alcohol was recognised for what it is, or when it was first deliberately produced. It’s suggested that the natural fermentation of rotting fruit, or compressed grain in a granary might have been the initial source. Be that as it may, alcohol whether as beer or as wine is well recorded in ancient texts. And with this, there are recognitions of the problems that can ensue.

The ancient Greeks drank alcohol at their evening meetings; it’s use was widespread in the Roman Empire. The early Christians had diverging views; some saw alcohol as a ‘gift of God’, others saw the evils that it could produce. Early protestants such as Luther and Calvin weren’t so against alcohol as some of their successors certainly are. In those times, wine or ‘small beer’ was commonly drunk throughout the day, with rations given out to nuns and others. ‘Small beer’ contained only about 1% alcohol, much less than beer today; it’s suggested that it was safer to drink than water which could be contaminated. It’s wasn’t just the alcohol that killed the bugs; rather it was the boiling required before fermentation that ‘sterilised’ the liquid, and the alcohol prevented later contamination. This was certainly the view of my grandfather, who always drank beer when touring around Ireland decades ago; it was simply safer than the local water.

The problems surrounding drunkenness lead to the emergence of temperance organisations, both in Ireland with Father Theobald Matthew and later James Cullen and the Pioneers; and elsewhere, usually within religious movements. Though the word ‘temperance’ implies ‘moderation’, such movements were really about total abstinence.

The concept of ‘alcoholism’ as a disease began to emerge in the late 19th century, being more formalised in the 20th. Medically, it can be seen as a physical addiction, and it is often associated with depression. (Alistair Campbell has certainly suffered with depression.) A marked rise in vodka consumption has been seen recently in Russia, and is often related to the miserable socio-economic conditions there after the fall of communism; Russian men have seen a marked decline in their life expectancy in the last two decades, almost certainly related to their alcohol consumption. There can be a genetic disposition, suggesting that some people cannot ‘help themselves’. As students, one psychiatrist taught us that alcohol addiction was a response to ‘internal pain’, alcohol acted as an analgesic, a pain killer. Part of the treatment was to try to discover what caused the patient’s pain, for without getting to the ‘root cause’ we would be unsuccessful in our therapy. I’m not sure if this view ever gained widespread acceptance. But there is also a ‘social’ view of alcohol consumption, one of society and the role we play within it; alcohol as a social lubricant, easing conversation between strangers though lowering of our defences, perhaps we even reveal too much, ‘in vino veritas’. And of course, it ‘provokes the desire but takes away the performance’.

Not only are there alcoholics in the classical sense, but also others who might be ‘heavy social drinkers’ or even ‘high functioning alcoholics’. Is excess alcohol consumption related to the stresses of life and the need for relaxation—a learned behaviour, a coping mechanism for life’s vicissitudes; or is it primarily a medical illness, or a bit of both? Whatever your view, it can be remarkably destructive.

If you think that someone you know might be an alcoholic, you should seek advice and help:

The Samaritans are on:  08457 909090 (UK) and 116 123 (Ireland)

Alcoholics Anonymous are on: 0845 769 7555   The Irish group is here.

Al-Anon (support for those affected by another’s problem):  020 7403 0888   In Ireland, (01) 873 2699

If you pay for it, you’ll soon be a criminal

Clause 15 of Lord Morrow’s anti-trafficking Act comes into force on I June 2015. This Clause, originally Clause 6 in the Bill, introduces the ‘Swedish’ model to N Ireland. This makes is illegal to ‘pay’ for sexual services; pay is defined as money, goods and services. The criminality is asymmetrical, the buyer is criminalised, the seller is not. The Act is available here.

A time-worn cliché perhaps, but prostitution, the legal term for harlotry or whoredom, is not called the ‘oldest profession’ for nothing. It’s mentioned in some of the earliest extant written records. Traditionally, we think of women being sellers of services and men being buyers, though other models do exist; I will concentrate on this.

In Corinth in ancient Greece, and elsewhere, prostitution was an obligatory temple or religious duty for many women. Harlotry has also been seen as a way to social advancement, to independence, and because of poverty. These three ‘drivers’ reflect the very secondary role that women played in society through much of western history. It could be that by keeping women in such a state of general subjugation, it was the patriarchy that encouraged women to find a way to escape their restrictions.

Human trafficking is a complex subject, and includes concepts including coercion, deceit, chattel slavery, debt bondage, blackmail, illegal entry to a country, remaining after a visa has expired, transport (either locally or trans-nationally), sexual exploitation, forced organ donation, and forced marriage. As an illegal activity, statistics about the numbers of trafficked persons are very uncertain, and at best are estimates. Trafficking is to be distinguished from ‘people smuggling’, where the participants are volunteers in an activity which is illegal. In some jurisdictions the elements of ‘coercion’ are absent from the definition; such ‘victims’ of trafficking may be willing volunteers.

Human trafficking involving coercion by whatever means is an absolute moral outrage because it removes an individual’s personal autonomy and agency (and all that entails) and is thus condemned absolutely by all right-thinking people. People who have been trafficked are involved, as I understand it, with work in domestic servitude, work in agriculture in the broadest sense, and in sex work. Nail bars are said to be a Vietnamese speciality. The impetus for nation states to legislate arises from the United Nation’s Palermo protocols. [I’m not a lawyer, and cannot therefore usefully comment on the provisions of the general principles of the Act, whether this ‘extra’ legislation is necessary or sufficient. But, for his work in bringing the problems of trafficking to public attention, Lord Morrow is to be thanked, though this must be tempered by two areas of the Act which are contentious.]

The impetus behind Lord Morrow’s Act seems to have come from a meeting between him and ‘Anna’, a woman from eastern Europe who described how she had been trafficked into and around Ireland, and made to have sex with men; and how she was chained to a radiator; I’m sure I saw a video, but I can’t find it. This is the closest file. There’s a shorter version here, courtesy of CARE, Christian Action Research and Education. It makes a grim story, one of many similar ones. Often such women have been rescued, and agreed to relate their histories. Not all of these stories have stood up to close scrutiny: see this 2007 article from the Washington Post.  How she was introduced to Lord Morrow isn’t clear, not are the steps he took to validate her story. Anna describes her abduction as being in 2011, when she was taken from a London street and flown via Luton to Ireland. At that time a photo ID was necessary for travel; where did this come from?

Nevertheless, a Bill was brought forward to further criminalise people traffickers, and to offer support to those who have left or escaped. Clause 6/15 introduced the Swedish model, criminalising the buyer of sexual services; the buyers of domestic service and agricultural services are not so criminalised. People trafficking was covered by pre-existing legislation, as was the purchase of sex from a trafficked woman. The Act also describes support services for those who wish to leave the ‘industry’.

During its progress through the Assembly, the Bill was discussed by the Justice Committee. Recordings of proceedings are available on Youtube; there are also written Hansard reports, and a final committee report. The committee interviewed several interested witnesses; for example ‘Uglymugs’, a support service for sex workers, here; Drs Ellison and Huschke of QUB, who later produced a report on prostitution in N Ireland, here; Laura Lee, a sex worker and activist, here; Lord Morrow and ‘CARE’, a Christian support organisation, here; and Ruhama, and Turn off the Red Light, here. The videos are all quite long; should you view them, you might wonder if the members of the committee were being entirely even-handed in their questioning of all of the witnesses; whether they began with open minds. (This is also described as ‘sextarianism’, here.)

Although the need for further evidence on the state of prostitution in N Ireland was denied during the Committee stage, the Dept of Justice commission a report through QUB, and published it here. It may be incomplete, but it is the best, and almost the only relevant factual evidence. Views on prostitution are often judgemental and surrounded by pejorative polemic, such as ‘selling your body’ or ‘using a woman’. Indeed, an unbiassed account of the ‘problem’—even whether there really is a problem—is very difficult. Whether ‘Belle de Jour’ represents a more accurate picture than ‘misery memoirs’ (such as this) produced by rescued survivors is difficult to ascertain. Indeed, the use of manipulated or entirely imaginary statistics is associated with ‘antis’; for example, it is often stated that the average of entry for women into prostitution is 13. This is derived from a study of underage (American) sex workers; the question asked was ‘when did you first have sexual intercourse’ and not ‘when were you first paid for sex’. Similarly, it has been reported that in America, some 40,000 escorts are trafficked to major sporting events; that is, the passengers in 100 jumbo jets. Or that trafficked women must have sex 100 times daily; there are 1440 minutes in 24 hours; is the claim mathematically possible? Several high profile media (anti) campaigners have been found to have fabricated their claims. Can it really be the case that most women are volunteers and independent; that many are single women with children; and that they are primarily motivated by money worries, and that their view of their work is finding it more congenial than working as a ‘wage-slave’ such as a toilet cleaner? In no field of human endeavour can there be more dissimulation than that regarding sex in general and sex work in particular. The conflation of trafficking and prostitution, and it’s ‘mainstream’ acceptance, is the successful result of efforts by the ‘antis’ over the past few years; this is similar to some of the tactics used in the recent referendum in the Republic, where the ’No’ campaign invoked images of paedophilia and surrogacy—related concepts certainly, but a parallel or even ‘knight’s move’ response to the actual question which voters were asked.

The contentious areas have been the Swedish model and the support offered.

Firstly, there is the application of ‘support’ for those who have been trafficked. There has been a marked tendency to regard such people as being not just trafficked, but also as victims. Some of these persons may have been smuggled into N Ireland, and as such the apparent support could include arrest and deportation to their country of origin, to which they may have no desire to return. Whether the financial provisions prove to be sufficient to support such trafficked persons is uncertain. Further, organisations such as Ruhama may be involved in relation to ‘sex work’. Ruhama, apparently, is an organisation run by the lineal descendants of those who ran the Magdalene Laundries. And it seems that almost all of Ruhama’s income is spent on ‘administration’ and the little that remains for ‘support’.

Secondly, and much more contentious, is the inclusion in the Act of a general criminalisation of ‘sex work’, which in legal parlance is called ‘prostitution’. Prostitution is not, at present, illegal in N Ireland, though what might be described as associated activities certainly are. Recent moves to include criminalise prostitution in Scotland and in England and Wales were not successful. Paying for sexual services from a trafficked person is already a ‘strict liability’ offence throughout the UK. (In criminal trials, two factors must normally be proven; the mens rea or ‘guilty mind and intent’ and the actus reaus or ‘guilty act’. If it is a ‘strict liability’ offence, the ‘guilty mind’ is irrelevant—meaning in this context, that a defendant cannot rely on a statement such as, ‘I didn’t know she was trafficked’.) This new Act includes the following paragraphs (and other associated ones) which are to be amendments to The Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008

A person (A) commits an offence if A obtains sexual services

from a person (B) in exchange for payment—

  • (a)  if the payment is made or promised by A; or
  • (b)  if the payment is made or promised by a third party and A knows
    or believes that the payment is made or promised by a third party.

… “payment” means any financial advantage to B, or any person other than B, including the discharge of an obligation to pay or the provision of goods or services (other than sexual services) gratuitously or at a discount.

The sexual services are:

  • (a)  B being physically in A’s presence(b)  B touching A or A touching B, and

  • (c)  the touching being sexual; or

  • (d)  B touching B in a sexual manner for the sexual gratification of A,
    B being physically in A’s presence.

This new criminalisation is asymmetric, for it is the buyer who is criminalised, but not the seller. The definitions of ‘sexual services’ and ‘payment’ in the Act are very broad and inclusive; they would certainly include what is commonly thought of as ‘prostitution’, but could well extend to any payment for services, to mistresses and others who might not think of themselves as ‘sellers’. George Bernard Shaw described marriage as ‘legalised prostitution’, and there’s certainly a (sexist) view that, for men, all sexual intercourse has to be paid for in one way or another.

The model of criminalisation introduced in the Act is a version of the ‘Nordic’ or ‘Swedish’ model. This originated in Sweden in 1999, either as a response to excessive and unwanted immigration, or as a result of the efforts of some feminists; or perhaps both. These feminists are said to be of the view that all heterosexual intercourse is violence towards women, and, therefore, women who sell such services are being raped; and if the women deny this, then they are suffering from ‘false consciousness’. The Swedish police claim that their legislation is successful, though, it is claimed,  they didn’t actually collect statistics before the introduction of this law. Swedish law also allows the police to monitor monitor phone calls; and the landlords of flats occupied by ‘sex workers’ are obliged to turf such people out on to the street, rendering them homeless, when the landlord become aware of what’s going on. And somehow, though I don’t understand how this works, even if a ‘sex worker’ owns a flat, she can be evicted from it. Such moves are not possible in N Ireland.

During their deliberations, the members of the Justice Committee tasked with fully discussing the proposed Act visited Sweden, and talked to the police there.  During these discussions, a comment to the effect that, ‘we don’t need evidence’ was made; it was also claimed that criminal organisations trafficked hundreds of women throughout Ireland on a weekly basis. Quite why these rapacious men, and an MLA, were able to find these trafficked women easily when neither the PSNI or the Guardá were able to was not explained. (Some years ago, in ‘Operation Pentameter 2’, all UK police forces searched for ‘traffickers’ who had brought women into prostitution. They found no new traffickers. Despite this, politicians claimed the operation had been a success. This article in the Guardian is worth reading in full.) Further, the combination of a belief- and rhetoric-heavy argument, which is evidence-light, and concerns things that could upset the social order and which are often taboo creates a moral panic. A recent article describes the intended effects of the Swedish model, and also discusses how ‘austerity’ in the UK may lead to new entrants; while you might find it a disturbing read, any informed, rational debate ought to involve both ’sides’. Laura Lee is to challenge this Act in the Courts, here.

The Swedish model isn’t the only contemporary one. New Zealand, early in this century, introduced decriminalisation associated with regulation. The committee seems not to have properly discussed this; they didn’t visit New Zealand. The US criminalises both the seller and the buyer of ‘sexual services’, and has done so for around a century, following pressure from ‘purity associations’. It doesn’t seem in any way to be effective.

The Swedish model is also considered to be an ‘end demand’ strategy, that is, by criminalising the purchaser the demand for services will decline, and ultimately disappear. This concept, an eradication of the ‘oldest profession’ flies completely in the face of human (and animal) biology and physiology, and of history. It goes entirely against the reality that sexual intercourse is normal, healthy, and essential in life, though there may be an asymmetry between the wants and needs of women and men. Sex is at the lowest of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:


Prostitution, for food, has certainly been observed in animal species. If the idea behind criminalisation implies that of life-long monogamy, this again isn’t consistent with animal observations. Even swans, that ultimate symbol of life-long mating aren’t what they seem. Genetic studies have shown, in some cases, that the offspring of a pair cannot be those of the male (the cob). In humans, estimates suggest that perhaps 10% of children born to a couple aren’t the offspring of the father. (The underlying theory is that the female seeks a mate who will provide for her during and after the pregnancy, and help with child care; but that the female also seeks the genes of the ‘alpha male’, someone who might not be the best log-term provider, but who has the ‘best’ genes.)

Objections to ‘sex work’ can be considered as moral, philosophical and practical ones. If you have a moral objection to ‘sex work’, as you are perfectly entitled to do, then, as with abortion and ‘gay marriage’, you should shun it; but that in no way gives you the prerogative to legislate for others. If you choose to ignore the lessons of history, and feel that women require the support of the law, people whose self-awareness is so feeble that they need and deserve support even if they say they don’t, then you are a tool of the patriarchy, someone whose views of the agency of women belongs in the realms of history. And if you ‘keep’ a mistress, or even as a single man you invite a single woman out for dinner, after which you both go back to hers where the inevitable happens; or a husband who promises his wife a new dishwasher, you could on a literal interpretation of this Act suddenly find yourselves criminals. Further, people who are disabled often have difficulty finding sexual partners, as might widowers and those in care homes. Such individuals can, at present ‘buy’ sex, but, unless they want to be criminals, not in future.

In what way does the Act make life for a ‘working girl’ safer? Is it reasonable to believe that a client will call the police, admit to his commission of a crime, just to report his suspicions of her being trafficked? Will the ‘end demand’ strategy succeed, against the forces of biology? If you look at the ‘wars’ against things that the public enjoy, such as alcohol and drugs, it’s clear that such prohibitions firstly don’t work, and secondly that the industry rapidly becomes criminalised. Is that really what our legislators want?

Voters and Candidates

Who can and can’t vote in the UK at general elections?

While we think we have universal adult suffrage, this is not quite correct. You must be on the electoral register, be over the age of 18, and be a British citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a citizen of some commonwealth countries.

You cannot vote if you are an attending member of the House of Lords, an EU citizen who is resident in the UK, if you are a convict in prison, or if you have been convicted of electoral fraud within the past five years.

Who can and can’t be a candidate in UK general elections?

This is specifically about N Ireland, though the requirements are similar elsewhere in the UK.

You must be at least 18, a British citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or of a qualifying commonwealth country, or a citizen of Malta or Cyprus.

You cannot be a candidate if you are a civil servant, as the civil service is expected to be non-political; a member of a police force or the armed forces; a judge, a member of an external parliament (except the Dáil/Oireachtas), a Lord Temporal or a Lord Spiritual sitting in the House of Lords. (In the past, if you were in the armed forces wanted out, you could apply for a release from your service if you were an election candidate. This became so popular that the rules, inevitably, were made quite restrictive.)

Certain bankrupts are disqualified, as are many convicted prisoners, or if you have been convicted of electoral fraud within the previous five years.

Being a MEP is ‘incompatible’ with being an MP. You cannot stand in more than one constituency at the same general election.

Note: the eligibility to vote and to be a candidate, and what can disqualify you from voting or being a candidate is much more complicated than this brief summary outline indicates.

Other elections

These are the principles for a UK general election; for local and EU elections, the eligibility to vote is rather different. In general, EU citizens resident in the UK can vote in such elections, and may be eligible to vote in the future EU referendum.

Voting in UK elections

I’m concentrating here on UK general elections; the rules for local elections and for EU elections are rather different.

Who can and can’t vote in the UK at general elections?

While we think we have universal adult suffrage, this is not quite correct. You must be on the electoral register, be over the age of 18, and be a British citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a citizen of some commonwealth countries.

You cannot vote if you are an attending member of the House of Lords, an EU citizen who is resident in the UK, if you are a convict in prison, or if you have been convicted of electoral fraud within the past five years.

Who can and can’t be a candidate in UK general elections?

This is specifically about N Ireland, though the requirements are similar elsewhere in the UK.

You must be at least 18, a British citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or of a qualifying commonwealth country, or a citizen of Malta or Cyprus.

You cannot be a candidate if you are a civil servant, as the civil service is expected to be non-political; a member of a police force or the armed forces; a judge, a member of an external parliament (except the Dáil/Oireachtas), a Lord Temporal or a Lord Spiritual sitting in the House of Lords. (In the past, if you were in the armed forces wanted out, you could apply for a release from your service if you were an election candidate. This became so popular that the rules, inevitably, were made quite restrictive.)

Certain bankrupts are disqualified, as are many convicted prisoners, or if you have been convicted of electoral fraud within the previous five years.

Being a MEP is ‘incompatible’ with being an MP. You cannot stand in more than one constituency at the same general election.

Note: the eligibility to vote and to be a candidate, and what can disqualify you from voting or being a candidate is much more complicated than this brief summary outline indicates.


You can see that (many) convicted prisoners can neither vote nor be a candidate—the rules around this are, again, much more complex than my simplistic overview. But these restrictions do raise some fundamental questions; and there has been conflict between the UK government who have wished to restrict prisoners’ rights and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)—another reason why the present Tory government wants to replace the Human Rights Act with a ‘British’ one.

Not that long ago, the punishment for most crimes, particularly property crime, was hanging—even for quite trivial theft. Public opinion gradually swung against this; transportation was introduced. The ideas of the Enlightenment in general, and Jeremy Bentham in particular informed modern prison theory. There were three main components to this; punishment through imprisonment for wrong-doing; deterrence to minimise reoffending, and put others off; and rehabilitation, an attempt to return convicts to a useful function in the outside world.

Rather oddly, the practical implementation of this model was based on the prior experience of the Magdalen Institutes in the 18th century; these had been established by both concerned protestant and catholic worthies, starting in London and Dublin, and operating for several decades. They are not to be confused with the Laundries, a different punitive concept, despite the similarity in name. (The Wikipedia entry is not correct.) The original Institutes were set up to house, sequester and rehabilitate ‘fallen women’. The Institutes chose those who they felt were capable of rehabilitation, those who were ‘penitent’—the origin of the US name for a prison, the ‘penitentiary’. The women who were taken in were clothed in fairly coarse, plain clothes; fed, taught a trade such as needlecraft and given hefty doses of Christian religiosity and morality. They were also paraded as a spectacle for (morally superior) onlookers on Sundays. At the end of three years or so, the women were released on licence, with a small amount of money, and expected to find their way in the world—the forerunner, if you like, of parole. The system wasn’t perfect, but it did work for many.

Restricting prisoners’ ability to vote, to take part in the political process, can be seen as a swing from rehabilitation to punishment.

The ECHR declared that a blanket ban on prisoner voting (as in the UK) was unlawful; prisoners in the Republic, and many other European states may vote.

The Death of Adolf Hitler

On this day in 1945, as the Third Reich crumbled before the onslaught of the Allied forces, Adolf Hitler took his own life, either by a gunshot, or a gunshot combined with a cyanide pill.

His medical history has been a subject of controversy ever since. It seems clear that he was a monorchid, that is, he had only one testicle, and was predominantly asexual.

A further diagnosis has been suggested, one that potentially explains much about his political theory and ambitions, though the evidence is entirely circumstantial. It has been suggested that he had neurosyphilis; this could certainly explain his attacks of abdominal pain, his heart problems, his 13 pages in Mein Kampf about syphilis, and his desire to exterminate the Jews and other undesirables. And his personal physician was a dermatologist.

Hitler was a very struggling artist in Vienna in 1908. The theory suggests that he contracted syphilis from a Jewish prostitute in this year; the circumstances are very suggestive, but there is no definite proof.

He then, it’s supposed, developed neurosyphilis, a manifestation of tertiary syphilis. Three stages in untreated syphilis are classically recognised. Firstly, a painless swelling or chancre develops soon after infection; this is followed some weeks later by a generalised rash which gradually fades. Much later, syphilis can be seen to have affected the brain and nervous system, as neurosyphilis; there can be cardiac lesions in the heart and disease in the great vessels, and there can be be progressive skin lesions (the ‘great pox’) . It can be difficult, without specific laboratory tests, to diagnose syphilis; not for nothing is it known as the ‘great imitator’.

Hitler’s physician during WW2 (Dr Theodore Morell) was a dermatologist, a specialist in skin diseases (and a charlatan). You might wonder what this has to do with syphilis. However, in German speaking areas, then as today, dermatologists were also specialists in venereal diseases (VD) or STIs, as we would now call them. This was because of the skin lesions in territory syphilis which could be very difficult to distinguish from other causes.

Hitler certainly associated syphilis with Jews and seems to have thought of it as a hereditary disease amongst them which they spread to Ayrians through Jewish prostitutes.

Before penicillin there was no effective treatment or cure for syphilis; mercury preparations, which were very toxic, were tried but weren’t effective, giving rise to the saying, ‘A night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury’.

If this theory is correct, Hitler wasn’t alone. Winston Churchill’s father, Randolph, died of syphilis, as did the French impressionist Manet. James Joyce may have been a sufferer, though this is also strenuously denied; the pianist and composer Scott Joplin and Al Capone were also diseased; Mrs Isabella Beeton, and very, very many others. Indeed, it was once believed, entirely erroneously, that syphilis made people much more creative in early middle age, so syphilis in a young man was something to be welcomed.