The hysteria around Corbyn's women-only carriages shows why we have such boring politicians

Jeremy Corbyn's greatest advantage is his ability to speak clearly and confidently, without mincing his words or engaging in the cautious, passive, managerial language which so alienates voters. And it's also the quality which is going to get him in the most trouble, as today's comments on women-only train carriages shows.

The Labour leadership candidate published proposals on tackling violence and harassment against women overnight. In it, he said this:

"Some women have raised with me that a solution to the rise in assault and harassment on public transport could be to introduce women only carriages. My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform, to the bus stop to on the mode of transport itself. However, I would consult with women and open it up to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome - and also if piloting this at times and modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest."

It may sound like a man considering a relatively radical policy option and pledging consultation on it, but apparently it is in fact the end of days.

As it happens, I don't agree with Corbyn. Segregation proposals act like male harassment is a constant unchangeable truth of the world, which it isn't. It puts the onus on women to protect themselves rather than men not to be scumbags. And segregation anywhere, on any basis, is not something to be entered into lightly. It's a massive moral decision and should ideally be reserved for very specific situations. 

Quite apart from all that, it seems logistically impossible, as Transport for London's previous response to the suggestion, back in 1999, suggests. Train operators who struggle to enforce quiet carriages should not be realistically expected to enforce gender separation carriages.

But the strength of the reaction to Corbyn's comments is completely out of proportion to what he suggested. In part, this is due to the increasingly shrill behaviour of the anti-Corbyn troops online. They are using anything they can against him – some of it valid, some of it not. They are increasingly hard to distinguish from the pro-Corbyn Twitter accounts who pile on any journalist who even asks a question about him. Watching both sides flap away at each other every day is becoming increasingly tiresome.

The rest of the reaction seems to suggest that Corbyn is some sort of Wahhabist misogynist, whose Islamic friends on pro-Palestinian campaigns have made him a sexist pig by osmosis. Or he is a relic of decades-old gender politics - even though a substantial chunk of debates around feminism and racism online is about 'safe space', this time in a civic or political, rather than security, sense. But once debates centre on creating 'safe space' on campus political meetings, it's not so surprising that people would suggest it in a more literal way for getting home at night.

The women's-only carriages idea is logistically, politically and morally unsound. But considering it – and saying you want to consult women over it – is hardly worthy of the hysterical responses we've seen this morning. This is the punishment for politicians who dare to express opinions clearly. This is what has helped create the current generation of political pygmies in Westminster.

It's why families who help their loved-ones with assisted dying must do so while technically breaking the law – because we have politicians without the bravery to discuss the issue. It's why politicians speak in a way which constantly hedges their bets, without ever saying anything of value. It's why we have a prime minister who can make whole speeches without a single identifiable meaningful political statement in them. It's why Corbyn is facing three candidates who are seemingly incapable of expressing what it is they actually want to do with power.

Our instinctive response to people expressing political opinions – especially, but not exclusively, in the world of gender, race and sexuality – is the witch hunt and collective craziness. Merely considering a consultation on something is now considered offensive and unacceptable.

And then, when everyone calms down, they will watch Newsnight and complain that politicians all sound the same. What happened to all the politicians with character, they will ask? Well we killed them all off, by losing our minds at the slightest provocation.

Germany's ten-point refugee plan shows how irresponsible Britain has become

The images keep on coming: from Calais, from the tiny, ramshackle boats crossing the Mediterranean, from Hungary and Serbia, from the Islands of Greece. We are witnessing the greatest movement of people since the end of the Second World War and the single greatest demand for Europe to live up to its rhetoric since it was constructed as a political project.

Britain's role has been particularly useless. Our press has been more concerned with highlighting the inconvenience of British tourists having to – gasp – actually see refugees than it has been with the plight of the refugees themselves. Our ministers have shot down any attempt to share the burden of those landing on Europe's shores. Our prime minister has engaged in the most base, dehumanising language. For weeks, the main topic of debate was whether we should send the army to Calais. This was never accompanied by a serious suggestion about what they would do, so the impression was left that many on the right believed we may need to simply start shooting the refugees.

It's been even worse in other parts of Europe. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are only accepting Christian families. Muslims can die, as far as they're concerned.

This is what Miriam Shaded, head of Estera, the Polish foundation that arranged the selection, had to say:

"They [non-Christian refugees] can be a threat to Poland. I think it is a great way for Isis to locate their troops . . . all around Europe. And if these people are not Isis representatives, [in Syria] their lives are not in danger, so then it is labour migration. If they are Muslim, they will not be killed because they are Muslims, because they believe in the same as Isis.”

Germany has been a beacon amid this moral shambles of ignorance and short-sighted selfishness. It expects to accept 800,000 refugees this year – more than all EU states combined in 2014.

Now its foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and economics minister, Sigmar Gabriel, have proposed a ten-point plan for how the EU handles this crisis. It is generous, serious, level-headed and balanced.

It accepts that re-admission to the country of origin must be a priority in the case of failed asylum seekers and that technical and financial support to those countries should be conditional on that happening. It requests an EU-wide understanding of safe countries of origin including, for obvious reasons, those western Balkan states aiming to join the EU. And it accepts that the only long term solution comes in the form of political initiatives to fight the causes of flight from Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and the rest of the region.

But alongside those policies are priorities of the sort which should be the base assumptions of civilised states. They demand EU-wide standards on humane conditions for receiving refugees, a common European code of asylum and fair distribution within the EU.

"The citizens of our country are helping to receive and integrate refugees into our society as never before," the German ministers warn.

"This solidarity will only be maintained long-term if people see that the refugee crisis is being approached fairly throughout Europe. A state of affairs in which – as today – only a handful of member states shoulder the entire burden is just as unsustainable as a system that forces those countries that happen to form the outer border of the EU to take the strain alone. We need binding and objective criteria for refugee quotas for all member states that take their respective capabilities into account."

They also demand "lasting and systematic financial support" for the municipal authorities in countries, like Hungary, Greece and Italy, which are under particular strain and properly funded rescue services in the Med.

"We cannot stand idly by and watch people risk their lives trying to get to us. The Mediterranean Sea cannot be a mass grave for desperate refugees. Europe’s humanitarian legacy, indeed our European view of humanity, are hanging in the balance."

Daringly - and against what must be considerable domestic pressure - they demand a new immigration bill in Germany which "facilitates lawful stays for the purposes of employment" to reduce the burden on the asylum system.

It is a truly grown-up set of recommendations. Even aside from the obvious moral imperative, they are the simple practical requirements of a massive influx of people. Some commentators on the right insist that by allowing residency like this you encourage demand. It is an expression of outright denial, as intellectually bankrupt as it is morally bankrupt.  The demand is patently already there. Our refusal to account for it has not diminished it.

Even if one disagrees with the German ten-point plan, it has more than enough to recommend it as a weighty intervention which deserves a similarly weighty response. But it is not even getting that. The Home Office won't comment on it except to refer back to their existing objection to a mandatory quota system. We are witnessing a failure of moral and practical responsibility on a continental scale.

Supporters of the EU often say that we need an international system to deal with international problems. One struggles to imagine a more obviously international problem than this one. And yet only Germany appears to have the moral vision required of it. 

Anti-vaping campaigners are a threat to public health

If today's Public Health England report on vaping shows anything, it's that those who oppose it are a threat to public health.

The report found that "e-cigarette use is around 95% less harmful to health than smoking". They pose "no risk of nicotine poisoning to user". Most of the chemicals causing smoking-related disease are absent and "the chemicals present pose limited danger".

It found that vaping is extremely successful at helping smokers quit cigarettes. And they are used almost exclusively by former smokers – dispelling the argument that they will somehow lead non-smokers to cigarettes.

There is also no harm to anyone around the vaper. As the report found, "e-cigarettes release negligible levels of nicotine into ambient air with no identified health risks to bystanders".

We're at an early stage on understanding the potential risks of vaping, but then, this is the stage we're at. We do not base our current decisions on the possibility of future evidence, we base them on what we have in front of us. And what we have in front of us strongly suggests vaping is very low risk and possibly completely harmless.

Which is what makes the next finding in the report particularly damning:

"Over the last year, there has been an overall shift among adults and youth towards the inaccurate perception of e-cigarettes as at least as harmful as cigarettes."

This is devastating. We are looking at a technology which appears capable of saving millions of lives. And so much misinformation about it is being churned out that people are turning against it.

You can't blame them. The hysteria around vaping has been pretty constant. The Welsh government has decided to bring in a workplace ban. Many workplaces have forced vapers outside to stand with smokers, giving the impression that the two activities are just as dangerous for the people that do them and those around them. Many of these policies followed a World Health Organisation report saying they should be banned indoors.

Anti-smoking groups like Ash and Cancer Research have been divided. For years now they have had internal debates and their public pronouncements are only just starting to cautiously welcome the technology. But they have a far prouder record, it should be noted, than their US counter-parts, who did so much to drive suspicions about vaping. When you speak to an anti-smoking campaigner, their view on vaping is a pretty good guide to whether they are of the pragmatic or the puritanical variety.

The latter have been in the ascendant for some time. The anti-smoking movement is increasingly driven more by emotion and messianic momentum than evidence. No-one is questioning the deadly effects of smoking. But then no-one claims second-hand smoke on a beach or in a pub garden is deadly. But nevertheless the call is for bans to be imposed in these locations. It’s packaged up as protecting children from seeing the activity, but the logic is the same as the normalisation argument used against vaping. It's about the sight of something, rather than the medical reality of it.

And if vaping reaches its full potential, puritanical anti-smokers are going to like it even less. The best way to get people off smoking is not to follow the protestant abstinence agenda of the NHS and the anti-smoking lobby - the people who seem to bathe in the misery of quitting, who feel that smokers must go through some sort of trial-by-punishment before they can emerge as pure, unsmelly, decent members of society. This technique has been shown to be useless. Those patches? That gum? Useless.

You get people off smoking not by punishing them, but by rewarding them. That's one of the reasons Allen Carr's books on quitting smoking were so effective. They tried to get the reader to enjoy the feeling of desiring nicotine and not having it. Instead of demanding penance, they celebrated change.

The same goes for vaping. The solution is not, as the Public Health England report seems to suggest, to hand e-cigarettes to doctors and have them put on prescription. It is not to medicalise them at all, or even treat them as smoking cessation aids. It is simply to make them as attractive as possible. People shouldn’t switch to vaping to stop smoking. They should switch because it’s better than smoking.

There is a thriving culture among vapers, made up people playing around with atomisers and mods and all sorts of other geeky stuff, changing bits and pieces on the back and front end of these strange new devices. They're altering the strength, the heaviness and smoothness of the smoke. And then they play with flavours, adding hints of vanilla to this or that. It's like a combination of DIY geekery and wine tasting – mechanical and sensual at the same time. Basically, vaping makes cigarettes look out of date. Cigarettes are black and white terrestrial TV. Vaping is satellite.

These guys aren't anti-smoking. They love smoking. They're just anti-cigarettes. For a long time that was a distinction which would have made no sense. But technology means it now does. And that fact could save millions of lives.

The puritanical wing of the anti-smoking movement will fight this culture all the way, because it is positive and upbeat and fundamentally pro-smoking. There will be many workplaces and legislatures who follow their lead and ban vaping indoors. They are a menace to public health. The real public health defenders are those whose excitement and inspiration about their hobby encourages more cigarette smokers to join them.

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