I can think of worse things to be than a French tart

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On the rare occasions I have to pen a short biography, I am happy to admit to a third-class degree, a youthful flirtation with shoplifting, the fact I was once arrested for helping to stage a mock virgin sacrifice, and that I have spent most of my adult life working with erotica. But I do tend to omit the brief period years back when I carried out research for a number of political types.

On the rare occasions I have to pen a short biography, I am happy to admit to a third-class degree, a youthful flirtation with shoplifting, the fact I was once arrested for helping to stage a mock virgin sacrifice, and that I have spent most of my adult life working with erotica. But I do tend to omit the brief period years back when I carried out research for a number of political types.

People may not let you play with their children if they find you've been mixing in those circles. So I empathise with Christine Wheatley's chagrin at being dropped from a shortlist to be the Labour Party's parliamentary candidate for Copeland after disclosing in a local newspaper that she had once worked as a Parisian prostitute.

You can see the Private Eye headline: "Prostitutes disown colleague after decision to become Blair babe." Miss Wheatley said staunchly: "I'm certainly not ashamed to have worked as a tart."

And why should she be? Prostitution is a venerable and distinguished profession, especially when compared to the venal, tawdry and megalomaniacal realm of politics. From a one-time working girl such as the Empress Theodora to courtesans such as Wellington's lover, Harriet Wilson, prostitutes have had enormous influence. So selling sex for money doesn't even get off the starting block as the most shameful secretin a politician's background. Not when there's vote-rigging, or involvement in arms dealing and tobacco manufacturing.

And how about the kind of fat cats who draw vast fees while ignoring the wholesale plundering of a company's pension fund? And don't get me started on involving this country in an illegal war. Then there's the cringe-inducing disclosures of MPs who once smoked dope, desperate to whip up the yoof and ageing hippie vote.

Nobody suggests that the party whip is withdrawn after these pathetic attempts at gonzo politics. Even thoughcannabis use is illegal, prostitution is legal. It's soliciting and kerb-crawling that exercise the legislators' frazzled grey cells. If you made prostitution illegal, you would have to lock up every youthful trophy wife of every ageing, balding, short, stout, dull millionaire.

Most sex work in the UK takes a voluntary form and is a logical extension of a world where you can buy vibrators in Selfridges, go dogging with Stan Collymore, find a one-night stand on the internet. It is also a logical extension of the fact that it's a woman's right to pursue any legal commercial activity - especially one that proves preferable to cleaning loos. Some may find it morally distasteful, but they're generally not scrubbing loos for a living. And, despite the constitutional erosion, we still live in a democracy where sexual morality is a matter of individual conscience.

Our browbeating nanny of a government ignores this inconvenient reality in favour of reactionary policies that highlight the repugnant fringe activities of sex work, such as trafficking and child prostitution, without addressing the need to improve the working conditions and safety of voluntary sex workers.Such considerations are hardly vote-winning policies. Why worry about scores of dead prostitutes if you can save hundreds of cuddly foxes?

My Cambridge neighbour, Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, a lecturer in forensic psychology, is one of the country's leading experts on the subject. She believes that "Paying the Price", the government's consultation paper on prostitution, is deeply flawed: it doesn't incorporate evidence-based research that runs contradictory to its apparent remit to portray all prostitutes and their clients as victims and abusers; it doesn't even quote Home Office research accurately; and it doesn't learn lessons from schemes overseas. But then, it is spearheaded by the (barely) human football rattle that is Caroline Flint MP.

In view of all this, you would have thought we needed in Parliament a one-time prostitute who bucks the stereotypes and self-admittedly took her lead from the seminal Seventies' tract The Happy Hooker.

Gay rights have been immeasurably bolstered by openly gay parliamentarians, and I have no doubt that the vibrant Ms Wheatley would similarly improve the lot of the 80,000 or so sex workers in this country. While she's at it, she could also have a go at championing the rights of the oppressed body of voiceless women known as Blair babes. In the Labour Party's eyes, Christine Wheatley has committed the most flagrant of political sins imaginable - honesty.

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