Spare us the vacuous talk and go back to Hollywood

Independent on Sunday, 27 October 2013

To some people, Russell Brand’s adolescent waffle sound likes informed opinion – but his pride in refusing to vote is foolish and dangerous

Just for a moment, I’d like you to picture a meeting in a town hall where a local political party is selecting its candidate for the next general election. In comes a fast-talking, lank-haired celebrity who has a ready answer when he’s asked why he wants to go into politics: “When I was asked to stand for Parliament, I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me,” he smirks. I don’t think you would have to be a passionate feminist to conclude that this guy is (a) a sexist idiot and (b) a narcissist whose ideas about politics are likely to be only slightly more coherent than those of a 13-year-old boy.

Neither of those things, it has to be said, are an impediment to guest-editing a political magazine or appearing on BBC2′s Newsnight. The quote I’ve ascribed to an imaginary candidate is a slight rewording of Russell Brand’s explanation for his decision to edit an issue of the New Statesman; the “beautiful woman” who asked him is, I assume, the paper’s associate editor and current Brand love interest (for want of a better phrase), Jemima Khan. The comedian repeated the line on Newsnight, which not for the first time mistook a scrap between two well-known blokes for a grown-up political debate.

It should be obvious that Brand gets this exposure for two reasons. One is that he’s a canny self-publicist who knows how to come up with a good one-liner; the other is that he reflects a widely-shared loathing of politicians. Brand uses an article in the New Statesman to dismiss them out of hand, claiming that the current political system is “nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites”. I must admit to feeling some amusement when I hear a man with an estimated personal fortune of £10m calling for a “massive” redistribution of wealth. But Brand’s refusal to vote because of his “weariness and exhaustion” in the face of the “lies, treachery and deceit of the political class” would be more convincing if he had ever engaged in any sort of political effort himself. (I’m afraid that impulsively abandoning a shopping trip with a stylist to join a riot doesn’t count.)

Brand knows what he’s against but he’s barely considered any alternatives, which is one of the reasons he got angry with Jeremy Paxman on Wednesday evening. All he can come up with is some adolescent waffle about “revolution” and a decidedly ahistorical view of earlier cultures: “If like the native people of America we believed God was in the soil, what would our intuitive response be to the implementation of fracking?” Personally, it’s not the god in the soil I’m worried about so much as earth tremors.

When Brand talks about the environment, he sounds like Prince Charles, that scion of a privileged dynasty whom we are not allowed to vote out of office. They were both at it last week, saying blindingly obvious things about the survival of the planet without much in the way of practical suggestions to secure it. Indeed, Brand’s spirit guide seems to be Fotherington-Thomas, the Ronald Searle character who skips around St Custard’s exclaiming “Hello trees, hello sky”. In Brand’s case we should add “Hello river”, since he thinks there would be less pollution if we revered rivers “like the Celtic people”. The past was apparently full of these happy agrarian folk, living in societies which were “socialist, egalitarian and integrated”. (Just don’t mention the Aztecs, I guess.)

I wouldn’t take any of this nonsense seriously were it not for the fact Brand’s anti-establishment rant strikes a chord with individuals who share his distaste for voting. As someone who has knocked on thousands of doors and delivered thousands of political leaflets, I don’t have much time for people who complain endlessly but don’t value democracy sufficiently to engage in it. Nor am I impressed by the foolish notion that voting doesn’t make any difference; if Labour had won in 2010, we wouldn’t now have the bedroom tax, the dismantling of the NHS, a cut in the top rate of tax or the destruction of thousands of public sector jobs.

Thank you, Mr Brand, that will be all. Go back to your lovely home in the Hollywood Hills and leave politics to people who aren’t afraid of difficult ideas and hard work. You’re one celebrity, I’m afraid, who’s more idiot than savant.

Education isn’t about ‘faith’ – public money shouldn’t fund religious schools

Independent on Sunday, 20 October 2013

Here is an alarming statistic: around a third of state-funded schools are now ‘faith’ establishments. How this has happened in a secular country, where few of us attend a church or mosque, is hard to comprehend. Religious schools are the most racially segregated, according to the British Humanist Association; it has published research suggesting that the majority of state-funded Sikh, Muslim and Hindu schools have no ‘white British’ pupils. Yet new ‘faith’ schools are opening all the time, thanks mainly to the government’s free schools programme.

Last week Ofsted published a damning report on a Muslim free school in Derby, describing the Al-Madinah school as ‘dysfunctional’. The school’s shortcomings are too many to catalogue, ranging from employment of unqualified teachers to failure to carry out criminal records checks. The governing body has now written to staff, withdrawing a requirement for female teachers to wear headscarves, but the letter includes a revealing statement: ‘Until recently, in keeping with our ethos as a faith based school we believed that it was in the best interests of pupils at Al-Madinah school, their parents and the community that female members of staff cover their hair’.

In a country which is legally committed to gender equality, how did anyone imagine such a policy was acceptable, let alone that it should be funded with public money? In this instance, it happens to be a Muslim school which has failed, but the episode highlights a major flaw in the thinking behind the free schools programme; it is not sufficiently critical of ‘faith’ organisations. Fifteen months ago, an Ofsted inspector visited the trust which proposed setting up the Al-Madinah school and looked at its plans. She reported that various regulations were unlikely to be met, including a requirement for all members of staff to undergo training in child protection.

Before the school had even opened, its curriculum sounded like a madrassa. It promised to encourage tolerance and respect but the school’s prospectus was open about censorship; books and resources would have to ‘conform to the teachings of Islam’ and anything considered ‘sensitive, inaccurate and potentially blasphemous’ would be removed. Despite all this, the inspector recommended that the free school should be allowed to open.

Since 2010, around half the applications to set up free schools have come from religious groups. That isn’t surprising; it’s a fantastic opportunity for proselytising. The applicants have included nine private schools teaching an American form of Creationism which holds that the Loch Ness monster exists and disproves evolution. They didn’t get through the process but almost a third of successful applications have a religious ethos. There is even a Maharishi free school in Lancashire which teaches ‘consciousness-based education’, invented by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, one-time ‘spiritual advisor’ to The Beatles.

The purpose of education is to develop critical faculties. We don’t have atheist schools or Lib Dem schools, and kids should be left to make up their own minds. The debacle in Derby demonstrates that religion has no place in state-funded education, other than as an optional subject.

The Jimmy Savile transcript should be required reading for police

Savile’s interview is a textbook example of the ease with which a confident abuser can run rings around his interrogators

The Guardian, Thursday 17 October 2013

When Jimmy Savile was questioned by Surrey police four years ago, he was 83 and had been sexually abusing children and teenagers for more than 50 years. The transcript of the interview, which has just been released, is the nearest we will ever get to hearing his version of events, almost as if Savile is speaking from beyond the grave. Reading the transcript cannot be easy for the DJ’s many victims, who will no doubt recognise the bluff, domineering persona he used to deflect any suggestion of wrongdoing. What is supposed to be an interrogation quickly turns into a performance, in which Savile uses familiar devices – threats, bluster and name-dropping – to dominate the proceedings.

But the interview has a significance that goes way beyond the question of how the authorities failed to detect and apprehend one prolific sex offender. It exposes the ease with which a confident abuser was able to run rings around his interrogators, even as recently as 2009, when the failure of so many investigations into rape and other sexual offences was a matter of public concern. While popular culture is obsessed with serial killers, they are relatively rare outside crime fiction; serial sex offenders are much more common but poorly understood. So is the fact that some of them prepare in advance for the possibility of one or more victims going to the police – what Savile refers to quite blatantly in the interview as his “policy”.

Resisting an allegation of rape or sexual assault requires tremendous self-confidence, but that is often a characteristic of men who are prepared to take the risk of committing dozens or even hundreds of offences. Savile’s vehement denials in the police transcript are reminiscent of those made by the broadcaster Stuart Hall, when he first faced charges of indecent assault. Hall dismissed the accusationsas “pernicious” and “spurious”, but later performed a volte-face and pleaded guilty. He is currently serving a 30-month prison sentence.

The truth about Hall and Savile is that each of them faced allegations by multiple victims, going back years, yet had the nerve to present themselves as the wronged party. On paper Savile was in a difficult position during the 2009 interview, facing child protection officers who wanted to talk to him about three separate historic allegations of sexual assault, allegedly carried out at two different locations. He admitted that he had been the target of similar allegations for years but turned it to his advantage, casting himself as a “victim” of false accusations and blackmail.

Men who abuse children and teenagers are often people in authority, used to getting their own way, and that is exactly how Savile behaves in the interview. At times the investigating officers barely get a word in, seeming more like visitors in awe of a celebrity – the interview was conducted in Savile’s office at Stoke Mandeville hospital – than officers of the law. Most of his boasting goes unchallenged, including some nonsense about taking his accusers to the Old Bailey, a criminal court that no longer hears defamation cases. The ease with which he gets away with it is breathtaking.

Savile’s behaviour speaks volumes about his character, revealing him to be aggressive, bullying and dishonest. He comes across as a fantasist, someone who has constructed a tissue of lies and misrepresentations to deflect the possibility of having to face serious criminal charges. He is open about his contempt for children and teenagers, saying he is not interested in girls under the age of 16, but boasts about his access to them: “No need to chase girls, I’ve thousands of them on Top of the Pops, thousands on Radio 1.”

This kind of boastfulness is not unusual in sex offenders, whose contempt for their victims is often matched by a high degree of self-regard. Admitting that they are rapists would damage their self-esteem, so they cast themselves instead as targets of malicious accusations. Shocking though it is to read, the transcript of Savile’s 2009 interview should be required reading for every detective working on serious sexual offences. It is a textbook example of a serial offender using rape myths to avoid prosecution – and, shockingly, of detectives apparently taking him at face value.

Love and death are all around

Sunday Times, 13 October 2013

Jo Nesbo is back with a novel that may come as a shock to many of his fans. His last book left his detective, Harry Hole, in what seemed like a terminal situation, yet Police, translated by Don Bartlett (Harvill  Secker £18.99/ebook £19.81), is billed as “the new Harry Hole thriller”. Nesbo is not in any hurry to solve this conundrum as Hole’s old team struggles to discover the identity of a serial killer who is targeting police officers in Oslo. The murders take place at the scenes of unsolved crimes, as though the killer is punishing the police for past failures.

Much of the suspense in the early chapters depends on the reader not knowing what has happened to Hole, and the novel is full of clues that lead in the wrong direction. But that isn’t the only reason why the book is an uncomfortable read. Hole’s attitude to his long-term girlfriend Rakel has always been grimly sentimental, but now Nesbo introduces a sinister erotic ­element. The juxtaposition of grotesque crimes and perverse romance is jarring, and adds to the sense that the series has become over­dependent on sensational developments.

Sue Grafton’s “alphabet” series of crime novels has entertained readers for years. She is on top form in W Is for Wasted (Mantle £17.99/ebook £17.99), presenting her private detective Kinsey ­Millhone with murders that turn out to be intimately linked to her family history. This is a shock for ­Kinsey, who is famously an orphan with few surviving relatives; but when a homeless man is found dead on a local beach, with Kinsey’s phone number in his pocket, she discovers that most of her assumptions have been wrong. Grafton’s decision to shake up Kinsey’s settled existence is unexpected, and promises an intriguing finale to this long-running series.

Hakan Nesser’s novels are usually strong on psychological insight. So The Strangler’s ­Honeymoon, translated by Laurie Thompson (Mantle £16.99/ebook £10.99), proves something of a disappointment. His detective Van Veeteren has retired from the force when a woman’s decomposing body is found in her flat in the author’s fictional town of Maardam; the woman’s 16-year-old daughter is missing and the killer has almost certainly committed other murders. Van Veeteren is called in and the case seems perfect for his ­intuitive ­understanding of human nature, but the killer turns out to be a mother-fixated psychopath. A subplot involving a ­vengeful woman is frankly incredible, and the novel ends with a burst of ­senseless violence.

Australia has had its share of sensational trials, including the wrongful ­conviction of a mother whose baby was taken by a dingo. Such cases are never far from the minds of characters in The Cry by Helen FitzGerald (Faber £7.99/ebook £6.99), which centres on the disappearance of a nine-week-old baby on a lonely road in Australia. Joanna and Alistair have just arrived from Glasgow and are taking their son to visit his grandmother outside Melbourne when the child vanishes.

Witnesses come forward, de­scribing Joanna’s frantic attempts to get the baby to stop crying on the long plane journey. An anonymous website accuses her of being a bad mother, while Twitter buzzes with speculation. In this very modern novel, which arrives at a startling conclusion, FitzGerald manipulates our knowledge of earlier cases in which women have been wrongly accused.

Dead Water (Pan Macmillan £7.99/ ebook £5.99) marks a welcome return by Ann Cleeves to Shetland, where her detective Jimmy Perez is mourning the murder of his fiancée in an earlier novel. With Perez working part-time, DI Willow Reeves is brought in to investigate the murder of a journalist whose body is found in a traditional Shetland boat. It represents the start of a fascinating working relationship in Cleeves’s novels, which have always been strong on place and character.

Which stories will we not be allowed to read? *

Independent on Sunday, 13 October 2013

Joan Smith says her profession has nothing to fear from the new plan to regulate the press

Two years ago, just before the Leveson inquiry began, I watched Paul Dacre make a speech. The Daily Mail editor was so angry that his hands were shaking. He painted an apocalyptic picture of a future in which the British press would be subject to the kind of restrictions endured by journalists in Zimbabwe. It was nonsense and hyperbole – I’ve worked on free expression for years and I know how repressive regimes operate. But it offered a useful insight: this, I realised, was how the campaign to challenge the overweening power of some editors and proprietors was going to be misrepresented.

This weekend, the volume of misrepresentation has been deafening. But I want to offer some warnings as the sky supposedly falls in on Britain’s 300-year-old tradition of a free press. No one ever gave up power without a fight; in a country which has never had an effective system of redress for people whose lives have been wrecked by the most heartless intrusion, the prospect that victims will be able to complain to an independent body is truly alarming for vested interests. Those with weak arguments usually try to shift the debate, which is why so many right-wing commentators are fulminating against “state regulation”.

I have been a journalist all my working life. I do not support state regulation of the press, and that isn’t what the royal charter agreed two days ago represents. Politicians won’t be involved in the decisions of an independent regulator, which will draw up its own code of ethics; crucially, they will not be able to change the charter without a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament. This safeguard means it would be easier for a government to pass emergency legislation to restrict press freedom through a simple majority than change the terms of the charter.

Even the most ferocious critics of the charter have not explained what kind of stories would be prevented from publication under its terms. It would not have prevented the Daily Mail from printing smears about Ed Miliband’s father or accusing The Guardian of treason. I’m rather hoping this is the start of a series in which the paper goes increasingly mad and calls for the expulsion of everyone who believes in equality and human rights. There are more of us than Mr Dacre realises, I’m pleased to say.

No one seriously argues that broadcasting, regulated by Ofcom, is censored by the state. The proposition that people should be able to seek redress from an independent body when journalists publish inaccuracies or harass the bereaved is hardly revolutionary. Beware of posturing about threats to press freedom: what diehard critics of the cross-party charter really fear is an end to impunity – the prerogative of tyrants everywhere.

* None

Joan Smith is on the board of campaign group ‘Hacked Off’

Lampedusa, halfway to broken-promise land

Independent on Sunday, 6 October 2013

There are reports of ships failing to stop if they see migrant boats in trouble

One evening last month I was in a beach café in southern Spain, looking out over the dark sea towards north Africa. Even at 10 o’clock at night, young African men were moving from table to table, their arms laden with carvings, watches and pirated DVDs. The same young men can be seen at the big market in Granada on Sunday mornings, arranging handbags with fake designer logos on a sheet while one of their number watches out for the police. They work for criminal gangs who supply them with cheap (and illegal) goods to sell while they pay off their debt to the people-smugglers who arranged their crossing from north Africa.

They are the lucky ones, unlike the hundreds of migrants who died in a fire and shipwreck off the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa last week. Such events are not rare but the potential scale of the disaster – around 500 were crammed on a 65ft boat – made headlines. Another shipwreck two days earlier, off Sicily, went almost unnoticed; according to Amnesty International, 13 Africans died when their boat ran aground off Ragusa and the smugglers reportedly forced them to jump to their deaths. Most of the 13 victims – as with the Lampedusa wreck – were from Eritrea, a country ravaged by war with Ethiopia and an inhuman, heavily militarised government.

It is clear that conflict, poverty and fear of the future drive people to this desperate gamble. Two years ago, as dictators toppled in North Africa, thousands of Tunisians attempted the crossing in unstable boats to Lampedusa. In Rome last December, I was shocked by the number of shabbily-dressed Asian men eking out a living selling umbrellas. Then there is the war in Syria: according to the UN, 7,500 Syrian refugees have arrived in Italy in 2013. That’s on top of 7,500 Eritreans and 3,000 Somalis; in the midst of an economic crisis, Italy is struggling to cope with the arrival this year alone of more than 30,000 migrants.

Many are naïve, knowing little about Europe, and they are encouraged by people-smugglers to entertain unrealistic expectations. Hope turns to disappointment and rage as the benefits they anticipated fail to materialise. Two years ago, migrants threatened with being sent back to Tunisia fought running battles with riot police in Italy. Two days ago, French riot police arrived in Calais and confronted around 60 Syrians who had blockaded a gangway at the ferry terminal, demanding to be allowed to come to the UK. The French authorities said the Syrians turned down an offer of asylum, claiming they were treated worse than “animals” in France.

And I can’t help thinking: it isn’t a disaster on the scale of last week’s loss of life, but the sight of young men hawking pirated DVDs to tourists on Spanish and Italian beaches is another kind of tragedy. It is a reflection of the sad fact that the outpouring of sympathy for shipwreck victims does not always extend to live migrants; many Africans who survive end up in camps, awaiting deportation, or bound by debt and illegal status to people-smugglers. Meanwhile, this exodus of young men – and they mostly are young men – drains countries of a labour force, as well as potential fathers and husbands; the Italian coastguard said the survivors of Wednesday’s disaster included 40 unaccompanied boys aged 14 to 17.

David Cameron’s commitment to protect the UK’s international development budget has been attacked by some of his back-benchers and the former Ukip (now independent) MEP Godfrey Bloom, who achieved notoriety for his infantile rant about aid to “bongo-bongo land”. But the argument that what happens in Africa is someone else’s problem is disproved by the attempts of thousands of desperate souls to cross the Mediterranean. Even if the political right is not impressed by any moral imperative, it makes sense in economic terms to help developing countries educate their young and provide jobs.

The long-term answer is to cut the huge disparity in living standards which is driving mass migration. Other things can be done in the short term. There have been reports of ships’ captains failing to stop when they spot migrant boats in obvious trouble, so every vessel should be required to assist under international law. Some African countries are trying to warn their populations about the people-smugglers’ false promises, and European governments could do more to help get the message across. Identifying and arresting smugglers is essential, and heavy jail sentences would be a warning to others. It is also clear that front-line countries need help to cope.

As Italy observed a day of national mourning, the country’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, talked eloquently about the deaths at sea as a “succession of true slaughters of innocents”. But he also appealed to other countries to shoulder their share of the burden of migrants, while one of his colleagues observed that this is “not an Italian but a European disaster”. He was right: it demands a concerted response from European governments, which need to work together to stop this evil trade. A world where such disasters are so frequent they become normalised, and go mostly unreported, is a challenge to our common humanity.

Love and death are all around

Sunday Times, 6 October 2013

Jo Nesbo is back with a novel that may come as a shock to many of his fans. His last book left his detective, Harry Hole, in what seemed like a terminal situation, yet Police, translated by Don Bartlett (Harvill  Secker £18.99/ebook £19.81), is billed as “the new Harry Hole thriller”. Nesbo is not in any hurry to solve this conundrum as Hole’s old team struggles to discover the identity of a serial killer who is targeting police officers in Oslo. The murders take place at the scenes of unsolved crimes, as though the killer is punishing the police for past failures.

Much of the suspense in the early chapters depends on the reader not knowing what has happened to Hole, and the novel is full of clues that lead in the wrong direction. But that isn’t the only reason why the book is an uncomfortable read. Hole’s attitude to his long-term girlfriend Rakel has always been grimly sentimental, but now Nesbo introduces a sinister erotic ­element. The juxtaposition of grotesque crimes and perverse romance is jarring, and adds to the sense that the series has become over­dependent on sensational developments.

Sue Grafton’s “alphabet” series of crime novels has entertained readers for years. She is on top form in W Is for Wasted (Mantle £17.99/ebook £17.99), presenting her private detective Kinsey ­Millhone with murders that turn out to be intimately linked to her family history. This is a shock for ­Kinsey, who is famously an orphan with few surviving relatives; but when a homeless man is found dead on a local beach, with Kinsey’s phone number in his pocket, she discovers that most of her assumptions have been wrong. Grafton’s decision to shake up Kinsey’s settled existence is unexpected, and promises an intriguing finale to this long-running series.

Hakan Nesser’s novels are usually strong on psychological insight. So The Strangler’s ­Honeymoon, translated by Laurie Thompson (Mantle £16.99/ebook £10.99), proves something of a disappointment. His detective Van Veeteren has retired from the force when a woman’s decomposing body is found in her flat in the author’s fictional town of Maardam; the woman’s 16-year-old daughter is missing and the killer has almost certainly committed other murders. Van Veeteren is called in and the case seems perfect for his ­intuitive ­understanding of human nature, but the killer turns out to be a mother-fixated psychopath. A subplot involving a ­vengeful woman is frankly incredible, and the novel ends with a burst of ­senseless violence.

Australia has had its share of sensational trials, including the wrongful ­conviction of a mother whose baby was taken by a dingo. Such cases are never far from the minds of characters in The Cry by Helen FitzGerald (Faber £7.99/ebook £6.99), which centres on the disappearance of a nine-week-old baby on a lonely road in Australia. Joanna and Alistair have just arrived from Glasgow and are taking their son to visit his grandmother outside Melbourne when the child vanishes.

Witnesses come forward, de­scribing Joanna’s frantic attempts to get the baby to stop crying on the long plane journey. An anonymous website accuses her of being a bad mother, while Twitter buzzes with speculation. In this very modern novel, which arrives at a startling conclusion, FitzGerald manipulates our knowledge of earlier cases in which women have been wrongly accused.

Dead Water (Pan Macmillan £7.99/ ebook £5.99) marks a welcome return by Ann Cleeves to Shetland, where her detective Jimmy Perez is mourning the murder of his fiancée in an earlier novel. With Perez working part-time, DI Willow Reeves is brought in to investigate the murder of a journalist whose body is found in a traditional Shetland boat. It represents the start of a fascinating working relationship in Cleeves’s novels, which have always been strong on place and character.

Porn has changed – for the worse. Even men have noticed

Independent on Sunday, 29 September 2013

The former editor of a lads’ mag has changed his view of pornography, because of the possible effect on his son, but he has forgotten something

Porn is under attack as never before. David Cameron says he will force internet providers to filter it out, while women’s groups and campaigners against child abuse are arguing that it has a disastrous effect on young people’s ideas about sex.

It’s an old debate given new urgency by changes in the nature of porn and the way it is delivered; there’s no doubt that porn has proliferated on the internet, where teenage boys can access it on their smartphones. It’s also become much nastier, introducing us to hideous concepts such as “rape porn”. That’s one of the reasons, I think, why the consensus that something needs to be done is so much wider than before.

In the 1980s, it was more or less left to feminists to argue that some (not all) porn had negative effects; I always tried to make a distinction between sex which was enjoyed by both parties and sex-and-violence. These days the latter predominates and the idea that most internet porn has anything to do with women’s sexual pleasure is laughable.

The porn industry targets men and increasingly boys, telling them that anal sex and blowjobs are a right, and the terrifying thing is that we don’t have high-quality sex education in every school to counter it. We also have popular newspapers which portray women as submissive sex objects every single day, softening men up for the hard stuff they see on the internet.

I am sick of this, and so are a lot of other people. Publishing pictures of women’s breasts in newspapers encourages the idea that we’re just a collection of body parts, which is why I support the campaign to get rid of Page 3. I don’t think half the population should be crudely displayed for the edification of the other half – and to sell newspapers. Nor do I think women should have to work in supermarkets where they have no choice but to see women’s naked bodies on the covers of lads’ mags; I love the fact that the feminist organisation Object has pointed out that this practice may be open to legal action under equality legislation. I’m pretty sure that the former editor of Loaded, Martin Daubney, wouldn’t agree with me about that, but he’s undergone a change of heart about porn. He’s even made a film about it, which will be shown on Channel 4 tomorrow evening at 10pm.

I couldn’t help cringing when I discovered the reason for his conversion; he has a four-year-old son and he’s anxious about the effect porn might have on him as he gets older. It also worries me that the film, called Porn on the Brain, is so focused on the damage it does to men rather than girls and women. Daubney meets a 19-year-old man who accesses porn more than a dozen times a day; in a startling sequence, the young man suddenly pulls his car into a pub car park so he can nip into the men’s toilets and masturbate.

The film is a mess, mixing laddish discussions of “wanking” with forays into neuroscience. But it does show scans comparing the brains of men aged 19 to 34 who consider their lives “controlled by porn” (sigh) with those of “ordinary people”. The former display twice as much activity in response to pornographic images and the section of their brains that lights up is the same, apparently, as in people who have problems with drugs and alcohol. It’s an interesting piece of research although the neuroscientist who carried it out thinks more work needs to be done to establish what’s going on.

I worry that the notion of porn being addictive lets men off the hook. In much the same way, talking about boys who have been “sexually traumatised” by watching porn diverts attention from girls who are having to deal with demeaning and dangerous sexual demands from young men. I’m glad that Daubney argues for better sex and relationships education, but I’m uncomfortable with the notion that porn is suddenly a bad thing because it damages boys.

What we really need is a cultural shift against the idea that it’s OK to exploit women in this way in newspapers, magazines and online. Feminist organisations made this point in their evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, arguing that the daily sexualisation of women in the media legitimises attitudes associated with discrimination and violence. Lord Justice Leveson seemed to agree, observing in his report that The Sun and the Daily Star have a tendency to “sexualise and demean” women and describing the Daily Sport as “hardly distinguishable” from the softer end of top-shelf porn. When a new regulator is set up, it’s vital that it should be able to consider third-party complaints from women’s groups, not just about sexist images in the popular press but the reporting of rape trials.

My sense is that the tide is finally turning against the routine sexualisation of women and girls. Why should we put up with being objectified every single day? The fight against internet porn is part of that struggle but it shouldn’t be treated in isolation, as though it has nothing to do with a wider tolerance of sexism and abuse.

The old argument which characterised porn as central to free speech has been challenged by a more sophisticated understanding of its mostly dire impact on equality. The kind of porn which shows submissive women and dominant men – and that’s just about all of it on the internet – distorts human relationships. It normalises brutality and the notion that women exist solely to do what men want. That isn’t tolerable if you want to live in a society that treats both sexes with respect.