Is there a more satisfying sight known to man than that of Labour outcast Denis MacShane making a prize idiot of himself - again? My previous favourite example was when he wrote an article in the run-up to the 2004 Spanish general election, gloating that his own party's socialist allies were going to reap no reward for opposing the Bush/Blair invasion of Iraq. A few days later, the socialist leader Zapatero was Prime Minister-elect of Spain, and the country's troops were looking forward to an unexpectedly swift departure from Iraq. MacShane characteristically brazened it out, hastily redefining the outcome as yet another unalloyed triumph for the Third Way!
His latest foot-in-mouth moment came when he went off on one in the House of Commons about an LSE professor of feminist political theory who asks her students as part of their course to consider whether there is any difference between women hiring themselves out as "low paid and often badly treated cleaners", and hiring themselves out as prostitutes. MacShane denounced this as the peddling of "poisonous drivel", but there was just one snag - the professor in question, Anne Phillips, actually does believe there is a fundamental distinction between the two concepts, as her extensive writing on the topic confirms. To a degree, therefore, she is actually on MacShane's side, but was he intelligent enough to spot that? Was he intelligent enough to even consider the possibility? To him, someone who isn't prepared to close down all thought and debate on the subject must be an apologist for the trafficking of women and exploitative prostitution.
And that, in a nutshell, is what is so wrong with Labour's approach (and indeed the approach of some politicians from other parties) to prostitution and other aspects of gender politics. It was no surprise that when MacShane finally made a less-than-gracious apology for insulting Anne Phillips, he revealed himself to be yet another Labour supporter of the Swedish model on prostitution law, which on ideological rather than rational grounds defines even the most scrupulously consensual and non-coercive transaction between a sex worker and client as "male violence against women" - including, perversely, when the "perpetrator" is not male, or when the "victim" is not female. Adherence to this warped logic invariably goes hand in hand with an unshakeable belief that a huge percentage of sex workers are trafficked and/or coerced. When the often patently ludicrous statistical "evidence" offered in support of this belief is challenged by the likes of Laura Agustin, the response is generally the rough equivalent of MacShane's hysterical reaction to Phillips' encouragement of debate. You cannot challenge what we already know to be true! Thinking is not permitted! Those who think are on the side of men who abuse and exploit women!
Any ideology that can only sustain itself by shutting down thought and disallowing awkward questions must be a weak one indeed. With that in mind, it's highly significant that it was the specific comparison with unpleasant cleaning work that hit such a nerve with MacShane. After all, his ideology won't permit the possibility that some prostitutes might legitimately dissent from his view that sex work is always demeaning and can never be consensual - if they believe they feel differently, it's by definition a kind of 'false consciousness'. And yet, of course, virtually any other kind of work is regarded by Labour on equally dubious ideological grounds as an all-purpose boon for the well-being of the individual. Once again, they have the phony evidence at their fingertips to 'prove' it - David Blunkett can recite it backwards. Cleaning toilets for eight hours a day cures depression and banishes all suicidal thoughts! Nothing is better for a bad back than some good old-fashioned manual labour! Any kind of work at all is better for the sick and vulnerable than (gasp) being on benefit. And if they don't realise that, well...they simply don't know what's good for them, do they, and must be 'helped' to see things as they really are. Sound familiar?
So to sum up : prostitutes who take a personal view that their work is not demeaning or exploitative are not entitled to that opinion. But cleaners who take a personal view that their work is demeaning, exploitative or bad for their health are not entitled to that opinion either. Little wonder, then, that some people are so scared of allowing rational thought to be brought to bear on this authoritarian and absurdly contradictory belief-system. Of course, it also begs the question of exactly what pay-grade you have to reach before you're allowed to know your own mind about what you do for a living. Suspended Labour member of parliament, perhaps?