I got my first lap-dancing related hate mail the other day. The writer (who was not anonymous) suggested that I had nothing better to do with my time and argued that I belonged in the Stasi.
One of the hazards of politics is that you occasionally take a clear public view and someone doesn’t like it. My crime was to have issued a statement in support of the new rules on sexual encounter establishments.
Since the 2003 Licensing Act, lap-dancing clubs had been subject to the same licensing regime as pubs and restaurants – in particular, there was a presumption in favour of a licence being granted and objections could only be raised on a limited range of grounds.
Residents could not object to a lap-dancing club on principle or because it was something they didn’t want in their neighbourhood. This, with the strong support of the Local Government Association, has now changed.
There are major issues for Liberals here. Do we support people being able to object to pubs on principle? Clearly not. Do we support people who might object to a pub being opened near a school? Probably not although we would not be tolerant of a pub which was keen to sell alcohol to school children.
So: on what grounds can we object to lap-dancing? Because it involves exploitation? The evidence for this is doubtful. And if we are worried about exploitation we should deal with that rather than intervene in adult entertainment, freely entered into by both performer and consumer. Rules to protect performers are possibly overdue although many of the well-known names are meticulous.
Perhaps we could object because it objectifies women? All sorts of things do that, from top shelf magazines to channels freely available on cable and satellite. We also live in a culture that objectifies and commodifies men – a fact that marketing people around footballers and male models have not been slow to grasp. Most Liberals would balk at banning all such materials.
What about crime? There is usually a suggestion that these establishments are associated somehow with serious crime and prostitution but the evidence is again poor. The clientele tend in fact to be of little interest to the police compared with the assorted drunks and hoorays they have to cope with on a Saturday night.
So we are left with the niceness test. Some people (possibly a majority of women) find these clubs distasteful and don’t want them near their homes or children. Or possibly husbands.
This sort of objection is one ultimately of planning. As such it is arguably fair enough.
But it is a fine line and you can see why there are those who find the new rules illiberal.
Cllr Chris White is Hertfordshire County Councillor for St. Albans Central and
St. Albans City & District Councillor for Clarence
He is also a member of the ALDC Management Committee
This article was first published on Liberal Democrat Voice