The Lib Dem Conference has just held a debate on a motion that would have seen us have a policy in favour mandatory filtering of pornography unless people opted-out. It was deeply illiberal and impracticable. Fortunately, conference voted for it to be "referenced back" to the Federal Policy Committee.
Here is what I would have said, had my card been picked:
Conference, there can't be many people in this room who would say their sensibilities are reflected on the pages of The Daily Mail. indeed, I imagine it's somewhat the opposite. With the exception of Secret Courts, on which that paper agreed with this conference, where the Mail rushes in, Liberals should fear to tread.
Imagine, therefore, my surprise when I browsed the Conference Agenda and read the motion before us proposing, as it does, that this party's policy should be what the Daily Mail has been campaigning for for years.
Granted, it starts well enough - I have no issue with lines 1-7 - but it's all downhill from there...
The motion (as printed in the agenda) proceeds to state it is the role of Government "to protect those too young to make an informed choice from potentially damaging experiences.." Call me old fashioned but surely it is parents who have that duty. Call me a dangerous liberal but I believe we should be allowing and empowering parents to bring their children up in the best way they can. Government and Schools do have a role but it is parents who should be taking the lead with support and help where required.
Thankfully these lines have been revised but when I first read it my blood pressure was rising but at this point, I had only made it to the bottom of page 34 of the Agenda... Things got worse as I turned to page 35.
Lines 11-17 fall into the classic trap that accompanies debates on pornography in this country: it's seen as dirty and filthy and consumed by men in dirty macs. To talk openly about pornography is taboo - and to suggest that its use by adults can be constructive is not the done thing. Instead, reference to pornography is shorthand for exploitative material used by the inadequate.
The motion reinforces this negative view with use of words such as "danger" and "problems" and the specific mention of violent and abusive porn, which it characterises as common.
Now, I don't dispute that there is material available that is violent or abusive. I don't dispute that pornography can be demeaning of women - or men, for that matter. I don't dispute that out of context and with no other input, it may indeed alter attitudes to sex and violence, depending on what they've seen.
What I do dispute, though, is the proposed solution. That the shutters should be thrown down on the Internet - blocking porn and inevitably blocking access to sexual health information sites - and sites that would help those getting to grips with their identities as young gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual people.
According to the motion, 9 out of 10 parents want an opt-in. But have these parents all taken up and used existing parental controls and voluntary filtering systems? I'd suggest it's unlikely - so shouldn't we rather promote these and educate people in their use?
To proceed on the basis of the motion would make it this party's policy to sub-contract parental responsibilities in this area to BT, Sky, Talk Talk and a host of other Internet Service Providers. Much is often made of the rise of the Nanny State in recent decades - this would see us advocate the rise of the Nanny ISP.
But I'd go further - if children are being exposed to pornography (and they always have, even before the advent of the internet) - would it not make more sense for the role of pornography to be part of sex education training. That young people are taught that it can be positive (in and out of relationships) but that it can also be abusive. That its role as fantasy is not necessarily reflectively of what should or can be in a real life context. The motion is silent on this.
We do live in a society where children are becoming more sexualised earlier - but that is not exclusively, or even largely the fault of pornography - and we should not pander to those who would promote such a view whilst running a website that features the side-bar of shame - yes, I'm looking at you, Daily Mail.
So, if we want to debate these issues, we need to debate them properly and look for real, Liberal solutions. Solutions that are practical and which seek to effect change through the empowerment of parents and children. What is proposed is a panacea which simultaneously doesn't solve the stated problem and raises more problems.
Conference, I've not even gone into Civil Liberty arguments nor the Technical arguments - I've merely scratched the top of an iceberg. This motion is deeply illiberal and unworkable, please vote to refer back and failing that, vote down the amendment and the motion.