Puritanical Legislation?

John Ozimek
As we struggle back to work after what is now reckoned to be the U.K.'s worst winter in more than a decade, there are signs of a deepening chill elsewhere on the horizon.

OK. For the benefit of our North American cousins who, we understand, actually know what a bad winter is like: We had three days of heavy snow. Temperatures plummeted to an indescribably awful minus-4, and the entire country came to a standstill for three days. Our famous "stiff upper lip" turns decidedly wobbly at the first sign of wintry weather.

The real chill lies in the last gasp of our nannying, socialist government, which now has just over 13 months of life left in it but seems determined, in that short space of time, to rewrite the sexual rulebook in its entirety.

First up come cartoons: A growing British interest in hentai and the fact that police forces around the country report at least one case where they have been unable to prosecute a suspected pedophile because "all he had at his address were cartoon images" have led government to propose laws that make it a crime to possess any (drawn) imagery of children in a sexual context.

If that really would make children safer, no one could object. But there is little to no evidence that such material actually encourages pedophile activity, and given that the alternative is real images of real abuse, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that making it a crime to look at "unreal" imagery could end up providing a stimulus to the obscene trade in real images.

Besides, as campaigners against the law are quick to point out, government has played its usual trick of looking at the issue through the eyes of law enforcement. They have consulted the police and women's groups — and quite forgotten to talk to the cartoon industry. So they have missed the point that perfectly ordinary adult works might contain images that are erotic and could, in a country where a child is anyone younger than 18, land someone in prison.

After all, if you are looking at a cartoon character, how on Earth can you know how old they are? The government's simple solution is to put the matter to a jury. If a jury finds the image, on balance, to be childlike enough to be considered a child, you're in trouble.

Second up for knocking down is the world's oldest profession. Forget evidence — because the one thing the experts can agree on about prostitution is that they cannot agree either as to the size of the problem or indeed what the problem actually is.

This is not good enough for a government in a hurry, especially one that seems to think that the only way it is going to get re-elected is to give in to any and every politically correct interest group that crosses its path: in this case, the radical feminists.

So they have brought forward legislation that has been broadly described as the most draconian in Western Europe.

To complete its hat trick of puritanical legislation, the U.K. government also is planning to clamp down on lap dancing. Again, despite a distinct lack of evidence that any harm is caused by such establishments, the government feels they are too easy to open. In the future, therefore, they are to be classed as sex clubs, with more stringent conditions and more expensive licenses.

The chances that this will do anything to halt the spread of the lap dancing fad are small: They will merely make the drinks served in the establishments that much more expensive to buy.

However, there has been a squeal of protest from the British burlesque scene, which until this proposal had been flourishing. Their acts also are likely to be classified as erotic in nature — leading to stricter licensing, etc., etc.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by government, the British police and court authorities are pressing ahead with the first prosecution of the written word — on grounds of obscenity — in almost 20 years. The case originates with a seriously sick online fantasy about the rape, murder and mutilation of a well-known U.K. girl band, Girls Aloud.

The significance of this particular prosecution is twofold. First, by the time you read this column, the accused will either have been found guilty or not. If a guilty verdict is returned, then the entire U.K. erotic publishing industry is in the firing line; editors will examine any and every work of porn with a fine-tooth comb, so expect serious chilling.

Second, although some commentators have regarded this action as being about the politicization of the British police, the truth probably is far subtler, far more worrisome — because the police are acting more like government, and government daily is thinking far more like policemen. There is a convergence going on here, and it is deeply worrying to all U.K. citizens with a concern for free speech.

If life in the U.K. just got chillier, the rest of Europe — outside of Scandinavia — remains remarkably temperate when it comes to adult matters. Celebrating Internet Safety Day in February, the EU congratulated itself on getting major ISPs and social networking sites to sign up to a code of conduct that is intended to make the Internet a safer place for children.

The European Parliament also has been debating the merits of a red button that will allow parents to disable online games deemed too adult for their kids. But otherwise, the rest of Europe is laid back about sex in a way that the U.K. isn't.

In Germany, TV presenter Hans Blomberg, announcing the results of a public vote for a song contest, fondled his colleague, Susanka Bersin.

He joked: "But the two most beautiful points remain with me," before suiting actions to words and tweaking the points in question. He was reprimanded but not fired. In the U.K., his feet would not have touched the ground.

In Denmark, the recession is taking its toll, as local working girls report a downturn in their business and the world-famous Museum Erotica also might have to close its doors if it cannot find new investment.

But these are economic woes, of a kind that almost every person on the planet is experiencing in one form or another right now. In Cologne, Germany, plans are well advanced for Erotika 09, the exclusive trade fair for the adult entertainment industry, due to take place there in late April. Organizers are optimistic that this will be its best year yet.

Perhaps the European attitude to sex is best summed up by a story appearing recently on the BBC. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy is married to one of the world's most beautiful women — former model and singer Carla Bruni — but in his spare time, he likes nothing better than to spend his spare time looking at … his stamp collection. That's seriously laid back.