As exercises in futility go, Bristol East Labour MP Kerry McCarthy’s backing of New Labour’s latest Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – only the 55th such bill they’ve introduced! – as a solution to the street prostitution problem in Eastville must take some beating.
Kerry’s attitude to the street prostitution problem that people in Eastville have now endured for over ten years without respite is nicely encapsulated on her blog today where she trivialises the issue as much as the Tories she’s complaining about by turning it into an opportunity for some pointless Punch ‘n’ Judy party politiking.
The fact is that the Labour Party has no boasting rights whatsoever on this issue, which has consistently and persistently demonstrated the abject failure of the police, the council and politicians to resolve a straightforward social problem that’s blighted an area of the city for far too long.
McCarthy is simply the latest on a long list of liberal-sounding Labour ladies making the right kind of polite ‘wimmin-friendly’ noises while dismally failing to deliver any change on the ground whatsoever. Those with slightly longer memories will perhaps recall former Bristol East MP Jean Corston and Labour council leader Diane Bunyan promising action on this issue too. What happened to that? And the money for their prostitution forum for that matter?
This time round McCarthy is supporting a few changes to the law and then a policy based on the same old criminal justice solutions to street prostitution that have all been done before. The fact is that over the last ten years in Eastville there’s been police and criminal justice-led initiative after police and criminal justice-led initiative and alleged police crackdown after police crackdown, all of which appear to have failed.
This is because the law is not the problem. Adequate laws already exist to deal with street prostitution in Eastville; it’s just that the police do not choose to use them properly, consistently or over a prolonged period. Many people believe this is due to an informal policing arrangement to contain Bristol’s street prostitution within certain areas of the city. One of these areas being Eastville.
What’s required to solve this problem is not Kerry’s electorally attractive politics of sitting in the centre ground making middle England-pleasing noises about yet more criminal justice initiatives but a politics of hard choices and reality. In the case of Eastville that means the introduction of a short-term approach and a long-term approach.
In the short-term there does indeed need to be an immediate and prolonged crackdown on street prostitution in Eastville that goes on for as long as it takes to get the pimps, the prostitutes, the dealers, the kerb crawlers and any other scumbags off their streets permanently. This means that the coppers and the politicians need to knuckle down, stop cooing over street prostitutes as tragic victims and sort out what needs to be done on behalf of a long-suffering community.
This is, of course, a short term measure that will simply move the problem elsewhere. But don’t the people of Eastville deserve a break? Perhaps the coppers could shunt the problem to Redcliffe where certain MPs spend their weekends and their union backers work every day. It’d be interesting to see their response to this shit on their doorstep.
In the longer term the city needs to accept that street prostitution is a social problem that the criminal justice system is failing to solve. The future must lie in forms of decriminalisation or legalisation perhaps including the introduction of areas of safety or properly legislated and agreed tolerance zones rather than these arbitrary tolerance zones currently operated to suit the Avon & Somerset’s needs.
This was of course precisely the position the city was moving towards in late 2005 when a cross-party consensus was reached at the city council – supported by the police’s own vice team and voluntary groups like the BDP – to pursue just such policies.
However the policy never got off the ground after it was unilaterally kiboshed by press release from Chief Constable Colin Port. During the Christmas holidays in 2005 he famously took it upon himself, with no consultation with anybody at all, to announce that “a zero tolerance campaign against kerb crawlers and prostitutes will be launched next month” and that “the plans for licensed red light zones have been shelved”.
The results of that crackdown – and the many that have followed it – are still here for all to see on the Fishponds Road, Eastville every night. Unfortunately McCarthy, it seems, is happy to follow in Port’s slipstream on this, supporting even more of this pointless, tough-talking crap that simply doesn’t work.