Home Secretary Theresa May says we are to have an anti-slavery Bill (with Commissioner plus staff) to combat the menace of “modern day slavery”. Apparently there are thousands of “slaves” in 21st century Britain so she’s going to organise a “crackdown” with stiffer sentences for slavers thus making good on a pledge made by David Cameron last April where he promised the government would: “ take a really concerted approach to crush it, to stamp it out and… take a criminal approach to those who are the traffickers”.
In August Mrs May guaranteed action although at the time the announcement made very little public impact since most people seemed to be more concerned with street crime and the apparent inability of many police forces to get a grip on it. Nevertheless an outline of proposals was promised by the end of the year and, true to her word the Draft Modern Slavery Bill was published a few days ago to a general chorus of approval from a variety of pressure groups that have been campaigning on this issue.
The founder of human trafficking charity Hope for Justice, Ben Cooley, welcomed the proposals.“We’ve learnt from experience that victim welfare is inextricably linked to the prosecution of perpetrators,” he said.“This bill is a critical step towards ending slavery in our country.”
Fortunately for Mrs May and the campaign groups public awareness of “slavery” had been raised in November by reports of an astonishing case of “modern slavery” uncovered by police and campaign groups in South London – “The Brixton Slaves”
It was presented to us as another Fritzl-like horror, involving three ‘enslaved women’, at least one of whom had ‘spent her whole life in captivity’ and had ‘never seen the outside world’.’ These British-based women went through a ‘30-year nightmare of captivity, servitude and unimaginable brutality’. It was, in a nutshell, the worst-ever case of hidden human enslavement, the papers told us. ‘No known victims have spent so long in captivity being brainwashed, beaten, manipulated and terrorised’, one said.
The media went into full frontal indignation mode with police and anti slavery campaigners jostling each other before the camera to get a piece of the action – just about 3 or 4 weeks before the draft bill was due to be published.
Unfortunately the whole story, initially bigged-up by police, pressure groups, politicians and the media, began to unravel. The women had not been chained up and locked in a cellar. They had been seen regularly on the streets. They had not been beaten, tortured or sexually abused. They had not been forced to do backbreaking work for hours on end without payment.
Rather, what we seem to be dealing with is, quite simply, a very, very eccentric household, in which various people came together, did and believed very strange things, developed an obsession with Mao and conspiracy theories about the British ‘fascist state’.
Indeed the Brixton scenario, shorn of its Maoist sub plot, bears a striking resemblance to the small but very active community associated with the website “Informed Consent”. These people have adopted a BDSM lifestyle that could be described as “consensual slavery”, claiming that the submissive finds comfort and security in such a relationship, while the dominant satisfies their needs to feel “in charge” of someone.
But there’s nothing like a good old fashioned moral panic (eagerly stoked by tabloids and pressure groups) to galvanise politicians into “doing something”. Think dangerous dogs or mobile phones used when driving… situations adequately covered by existing legislation if there had been a will to enforce it. But, with the media in full flood, our political class seize the hour by introducing new laws.
They love it.
They can introduce (or threaten to introduce) a new law and set up structures to implement and monitor those them. The police (who now appear so often to be incapable of enforcing existing laws) will love it because it will broaden career prospects. The lawyers will eagerly embrace any opportunity that offers them more briefs and lots of government cash. Academics will be licking their lips at the prospect of more taxpayer funded “research”: in other words, plenty of jobs (and cash) for the boys and girls of the campaigning pressure groups.
It’s very much like the internet porn filter that David Cameron (prodded by Mumsnet and The Daily Mail) has been trying to impose on Internet Service Providers to combat the other modern menace of “children being exposed to internet porn”
The trouble is that both of these are Blair style responses, quick, tough sounding reactions (“crush”, “crackdown”) to problems that only a few months ago did not appear to be on any mainstream radar. But two cases in Wales (a child murder and a perverted rock singer) and the so called Brixton “slaves” have put these issues firmly on the map and Cameron & Co’s answer is to tell us that we need government protection.
No matter that the recent “slavery” stories reported in the media can be more easily understood as examples of religious/political fanaticism, various consensual forms of fetishism or the age old problem of the bullying of the vulnerable or domestic violence. These are social issues that are already covered by existing legislation (as these cases illustrate) and which are sometimes better resolved by community pressure or skilled therapy than with the sledgehammer of new laws and quangos. For the political class, however, they are useful distracters to draw our attention away from such issues as EU dominance, uncontrolled immigration and rising debt which successive governments have failed to address – just as the suggestion that internet filters will protect our young people from internet porn has been likened to a hallucination springing out of technical and social ignorance.
But this is how modern politics works.
Our modern crop of politicians are by and large so desperate to fill tomorrow’s papers with “something“, so utterly bereft of ideas, so unable to leave anything alone if it thinks it will get them 10 minutes of praise in The Daily Mail, that nothing is off limits any more.
It could be, however, that, after decades of expecting the state to take our decisions for them many people are beginning to realise that such an abdication of responsibility merely gives the green light to whole regiments of interfering busybodies who believe they know what is best for us better than we do. They are becoming increasingly irritated by being told what to do and what to think – which makes this a golden moment for a political party that would legislate to the minimum, operate on the premise of a smaller state and act on the rather old fashioned and long forgotten dictum that, by and large, the government should get out of the way and leave us to run our own lives.
Government by adults for adults – wouldn’t that be a sight to see!