Remember Sophie Bridger, the young Liberal Democrat candidate in the Inverclyde by-election who made the soon-to-be-MP for the constituency look about two feet tall in one of the TV debates? Well, I just happened to stumble across a blogpost of hers from a few weeks ago, on the subject of the Icelandic bans on strip clubs and the purchase of sex -
“'I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.' It’s hard not to be won over by such emotive words from Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an Icelandic campaigning organisation against sex work. I would love to live in a country without strip clubs, lapdancing or prostitution...
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that legislation of this nature is illiberal. Whose rights are being infringed by a cheap lapdance? Not the buyer – he’s paying for a service. If the lapdancer is providing that service willingly, and not being coerced into her work, then she’s not having her rights infringed either. There are sex workers who do it because they enjoy it – not because they are being coerced, or to pay for a drug habit. So why should we prevent them from doing their work?
It’s not that simple, of course. People are being forced into prostitution, through trafficking and addiction and that is not acceptable. But criminalising prostitution will just push it underground, putting already vulnerable sex workers in danger...
...Liberalism means letting people make their own decisions. All we can do is ensure that those who engage in sex work do it because they want to, not because they have to. I hope that one day, I will live in a society without prostitution – not because it is illegal, but because women have decided that they are not for sale."
I think the last point is naive and unrealistic - giving people a free choice, but ultimately expecting every last one of them to exercise that free choice in conformity with the values of just one section of society, is a contradiction in terms. Human beings are made differently from each other - and the fact that many people find prostitution incomprehensible or morally objectionable is neither here nor there to the minority of women and men who take the opposite view and make a free choice to become sex workers. By the same token, there are many other much more 'legitimate' jobs that, if we're honest, a lot of us would never dream of doing and wouldn't want members of our families to do - but the idea of wanting those jobs to literally cease to exist on the basis of those subjective feelings is silly.
However, I agree with the main thrust of Sophie's argument. The current Icelandic government is the first majority left-wing administration the country has seen in its history - and it's a great shame that such a welcome development has almost inevitably been accompanied by the customary pigheadedness of the Nordic left in relation to sex work, refusing to see the industry in its true complex form, and instead reducing everything in infantile fashion to 'male exploitation of women'.
UPDATE (12:50pm) : A final little flurry in the Total Politics Awards - this blog has been voted the 95th best political blog in the UK (having failed to make the top 300 last year), and I've been voted the 143rd best political blogger. Thanks again for all your support.