One of my earliest memories of Stratford upon Avon is the beautiful willows along the banks of the river. But now someone wants to chop them down. The Bancroft trees, along with the footbridge, face the axe as part of the ‘World Heritage’ proposals for Stratford upon Avon, and the Tory-run council is planning to approve the plans this week. What madness is this? The trees are part of the historic character of Stratford, which makes its waterfront a world attraction. True, some of the trees have become diseased. Most have not — but the spurious argument being put forward is that the only way to protect the remaining trees is by chopping them down. Protect… by chopping them down… ? Willow trees take hundreds of years to grow. The real reason for the proposed cull is to ‘create vistas’ as part of Stratford’s regeneration. As everyone knows, I am a strong supporter, and have been since my days at West Midlands Arts, of the plans for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. But these plans do not involve, or require, the destruction of trees. Nor is Stratford an urban-deprived council estate in need of drastic surgery to make it habitable again. More
The most recent ICM poll shows that the Cameron factor is failing, and the Brown factor is unlikely to do Labour any favours, according to the Guardian today. By contrast, support for Lib-Dems has risen ahead of next week’s council elections, and smaller parties are also set to benefit. More
Today’s Federal Party Conference finished on a high note. Menzies Campbell’s leadership withstood its first test on Saturday, as delegates overwhelmingly voted through the parliamentary party’s policy on Post Offices. This was the motion that had been sent back by the autumn conference — but yesterday tables were turned and it was the (now rather few) rebels who were defeated. Today the party proved that it has the will to take the fight to its political enemies.
Everywhere there was a sense that change is in the air. This wasn’t just the thrilling Harrogate weather. Elsewhere Labour was going through another regretful crisis. While in Wales David Cameron was pleading with his party not to be frightened by the pace of his changes.
We should not gloat over the discomfiture of Tessa Jowell. Her situation is a tragedy largely not of her making. Nor should we be gleeful over the down-turn on Tory confidence in Cameron. Britain needs rejuvenation in its parties, and if the Tories are too slow-witted to see that, then that is their loss and ours.
In fact, the time for continuously comparing ourselves with our opponents and our poll-ratings has reached its end. Scandal may sell newspapers, but it does not make for good government.
Outside of the tiny world of British party politics, the world is changing. The environment is deteriorating far faster than most people are willing to believe. The West’s recent adventures in war and publishing have dramatically destabilised our relationship with the entire Muslim world. The economic development of China and India is a seismic shift in international trade. And, all the while, the worldwide growth in human trafficking for the sex-industry sees more than five million people sold into slavery each year — a blight on our consciences about which are doing almost nothing.
We no longer have time for bickering.
And Liberal-Democrats, at least, are ready to engage in constructive politics.
Yesterday’s raid on a Sauna in Birmingham uncovered the tip of the iceberg of the UK’s sex-trafficking industry. 19 women were rescued from allegedly forced prostitution, from Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Poland and Turkey.
The Birmingham police deserve every congratulation for facing up to the situation and taking action. But there is far, far more to be done.
The UN estimates that 5 million women and children are trafficked each year. This means that every three years, as many people are sold in slavery in the modern world as were sold during the 315 of the Atlantic slave trade. Nobody knows how many are trafficked in the UK each year — itself a damning indictment of our failure to begin to tackle the problem.
Key factors in the growth of sex trafficking in Britain include the following. First, in tackling prostitution our legal system has tended to penalise sex-workers while failing to go after pimps, and doing little to discourage the clients. Secondly, the growing tolerance for building-based prostitution creates an environment where traffickers can easily control their victims. Third, the UK heavily penalises people who are illegally in this country, even where they are victims of human trafficking. Chillingly, in yesterday’s raid, several of the girls are being held by police while their immigration status is checked. However, the most important factor is a failure by local authorities and central government to take the issue seriously.
While working for charity I was involved in counselling and assisting victims of sex-trafficking in Belgium. It is a long and depressingly fragile process. Belgium has a bad track record for its toleration of this industry. But it has developed some effective support mechanisms for victims, which we would do well to emulate in Britain. There are systems in place for victims to gain immigration status, and help mechanisms to assist them into social housing, language learning and the social security network. All these are missing in Britain.
Ultimately, the Belgian approach is based on the acceptance that sex-trafficking is a crime perpetrated on the victims by Belgian society. It is therefore for Belgian society to redress it.
For as long as we continue to penalise victims, with the occasional foray against the perpetrators to salve our conscience, we in Britain will continue to nurture the conditions which make this trade flourish.
And that is sickening.