22 December 2006

Taking a stand

Some might say that tabloid journalists have made a significant contribution to the perceived Decline In Moral Standards over the years – a decline they take so much joy in documenting. Others might say they are the faecal residue that a dung beetle would find untouchable, who even the Necromancer Society would hesitate to invite to dinner.

But never let it be said that The Sun is afraid to speak up on questions of conscience. Take the knotty problem of murder, for example. An editorial recently proclaimed: “The five women murdered in sleepy Suffolk were all prostitutes. But they can’t be dismissed as tarts who asked for what they got.”

Glad we cleared that up

21 December 2006

Pimp my emissions

Harriet Harman has drawn an interesting conclusions from the recent murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich - that the police should devote their resources to clamping down on the clients of street sex workers. Presumably because a similar approach to other vices - such as jailing drug addicts to correct behaviour - has been so successful. "It would be better to target the men who paid for sex rather than criminalising women" she is reported to have said.

Certainly it's hard to disagree with criminalising sex workers, but this surely marks the final delusion of a government that believes it can legislate people into behaving the way they should. The fact prostitution is known as the Oldest Profession doesn't deter them - as if enacting a new Alchemy Law would suddenly increase the production of gold.

The fact that some men pay in cash for sex with consenting women, to me, is no worse than big polluting corporations trying to buy carbon quotas on the sparkly new trading floor of the Carbon Emissions Market. Are those who sell their carbon allowances to serial polluters any better, morally, than people who choose to sell sex? And what does that make those who buy carbon allowances?

Emissions trading is officially "a key instrument in the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." Sex trading, apparently, is the unacceptable face of capitalism. One man's pimp is another man's facilitator of carbon emission reduction initiatives.

13 December 2006

Dial M for Ipswich

How many prostitutes does it take to set the news agenda? About five seems to be the answer. In my neck of the woods, where nothing ever happens, a couple of missing sex workers barely raised a mention in the local press. Three becomes four and then five - now suddenly there is a serial killer on the prowl. And just to add to everyone's fears and worries, people are being stalked by news crews and reporters, eager to fill the vacuum of hard facts with the oxygen of speculation and "reaction" - as though the citizens of Ipswich had been granted peculiar insight by proximity to murder.

Last night things had reached such a state of importance that the 10 O'Clock news came live from Ipswich. Huw Edwards was standing in front of a police station in Ipswich, presumably hoping to catch The Suffolk Ripper in the act, figuring that a criminal from East Anglia would be even stupider than your run-of-the-mill perp. We also had a reporter on hand to update us with news that the offender was likely to have a history of violence towards women. And to help everybody out, our killer seems to be producing corpses at such a rate that can satisfy the needs of 24-hour rolling news coverage, to allow them to really whip up the populace into a paroxysm of fear.

After the dehumanisation that enables a disturbed man to treat five women as expendable, his victims are dehumanised a second time, nightly across our screens and in the morning papers. Not people, merely tragic actors condemned to play their part in the narrative the press has written for them, right down to the culprit's nickname - even though he seems not to have mutilated any of them. And so Ipswich fears it will join that list of places whose names are synonyms for unspeakable acts: Dunblane, Soham. A brief feeding frenzy for the locusts in the slow news season, and soon all that is left is the husk of a town. A shorthand for tragedy we can file away for later, when we're treated to the follow-up stories One Year On, closely followed by the ITV1 Drama.

11 December 2006

The price of shame

I am intrigued by the government’s idea to “name and shame” absent fathers who do not pay maintenance for their children. This apparently amounts to coming down “like a ton of bricks" on negligent payers, according a spokesman for the Department for Cliches. Given the singular inability of the same people to collect £3.5bn of maintenance payments, I don’t expect absent father across the land to be scouring the skies for falling masonry anytime soon.


Presumably such a page of “deadbeat dads” would be buried somewhere within the Department For Work and Pensions’ website. This should hold no fear for anyone who has ever actually tried to use the DWP website, unless the government is planning to bid for keyword sponsorship on search engines such as Google or Yahoo! in order to really get the shame levels rising.

This rather flaky sounding measure is hot on the heels of “naming and shaming” speed camera offenders that was announced earlier this year, and surely represents a tacit admission of defeat. I’m also not sure what the whole scheme says about us as a nation: presumably the government thinks we will all be logging on to see which of our neighbours is behind in his child maintenance payments because we’re all so mean-minded, suspicious and judgemental.

Coming soon, websites “naming and shaming” everyone who stands on the right in the London Underground; people who mix their recycling; and people who blow their noses just a little too vigorously in the cinema. Brought to you by the newly-created Department of Naming and Shaming.

01 December 2006

Shaken in stir

"I've seen the future, and it's murder". Or so sang Leonard Cohen. But not if the British police have their way. Nor will it be Armed Robbery, Assault With a Deadly Weapon or GBH. Because they have found a way to prevent crime before it even happens, by using a massive database to target citizens who fit the profile of criminals.


According to the police the point of the list is "trying to pick up Ian Huntley before he goes out and commits that murder. Then we have the opportunity to stop something turning into a lethal event.” Quite why we would need a whole database just to stop Ian Huntley from committing murder again, particularly when he is already in prison, remains unclear.

Could it be that the government has finally lost all touch with reality and has taken to basing new policy upon whatever is showing at the cinema - in this case minority report. Presumably we'll get a quick resolution on this recent Russian spy-poisoning episode in London, once Tony gets around to watching Casino Royale.