No sex clubs please, we're Tower Hamlets

It's the end of a sexual era.

After a change in the law that gives local government more power, Tower Hamlets has a draft policy of zero tolerance for its 11 legal "sex establishments", otherwise known as strip clubs, lap-dancing and pole-dancing clubs. It has the power to shut them and looks likely to do so.

A consultation exercise finished last week, and I took part in it because I live very close to one of the clubs and am on a neighbourhood panel.

It was clear from the way that the issue was dealt with that the official position is that "no one in Tower Hamlets wants these clubs near them".

Personally I don't have an ideological problem with the places. While thinking that it must be humiliating for an averagely sensitive man to be treated like a co** with a wallet, I guess the humiliation's part of the draw: that and the guilty puzzle of trying to figure out who's exploiting whom exactly. I think there's probably some truth in the suggestion that they sell services for men who hate women, performed by women who hate men. Not nice but each to their own, I guess.

But over the past decade and a half I've gone from accepting its existence and feeling it would be hypocritical to complain because it was there when I moved in, to wishing it were closed because its clientele behaves, literally, as if the surrounding neighbourhood is a toilet when it come crashing out, drunk in the middle of the night. They are chronically disinhibited.

When I complained, the club's management responded by stepping into my personal space and offering to point a CCTV camera directly at my front door. Nice.

However, my own ever-evolving nimbyism aside, I recognise that there is a rather Victorian form of hypocrisy going on in the borough.

It has always been an article of faith that the sex club on my street - and I assume the other ten in the borough too - has been kept afloat by men from Canary Wharf and the City of London. You would see them piling out of black cabs, red faced apparently after a long lunch with clients in the middle of the afternoons, their tailoring making it easy to pinpoint their origins.

Granted, there appears to have been a downturn in the club's fortunes over the last year or so, which is probably partly to do with the recession. However, interestingly, my next door neighbour says he has a gay friend who works for an investment bank, whose responsibilities have included writing cheques for several thousand pounds at the end of a long day's "corporate entertainment" in this club. He will no longer be doing so, my neighbour has learnt, since several high-profile sex-discrimination cases in the City involving trips to sex clubs have meant that the human resources department has put its foot down. Such entertainment will not be paid for on expenses any more, it seems. It would be interesting to know how many companies still believe that to do so lends them a competitive advantage, now it's also a financial risk.

The specific hypocrisy I'm talking about goes deeper though, and has a whiff of Victoriana about it.

When the new legislation came in last year, the City of London only had one sex club - Charlie's on Crosswall. The pole-dancing there was only a part-time venture and it's stopped now. Canary Wharf has none - in fact, I understand that it doesn't do late licensing of any kind.

Since it's the financial districts that have traditionally kept sex clubs alive in the East End, is it not rather startling that the districts themselves have refused to play host to the clubs? Like a Victorian husband who likes to pretend that his wife is unversed in the ways of the bedroom, they've been displacing the grubby but lucrative work to the less expensive surrounding areas, making Tower Hamlets one of several boroughs legally prostituting itself to the financial districts for sexual services.

And I don't think that's right. I'll come back to this.

In the mean time, Hackney looks as if it may take a slightly more laissez-faire approach, leaving in place for the time being the strip clubs that already have licences, while refusing to grant any new ones. And Camden and Westminster have a separate history, involving Soho.

Also, it would be remiss of me not to mention - since Tower Hamlets is taking a relatively hard-line position on this - that five out of eight of my neighbourhood panel were Muslim men and I was the only woman there.

But you wouldn't have to be Islamic to take exception to the clubs. There are two schools on my road and this is frequently parked outside the club's front door.


I don't know about you, but I'd rather see a more discreet but also more honest solution to this conundrum. Less displacement, more practical thinking.

Sexual entertainment will always be craved by those partial to the exquisite humiliation it offers. I think Canary Wharf should look at itself in the mirror, take a deep breath and play host. Very few people - are there any? - live at ground level there, so the bad, late-night behaviour would pass mainly unnoticed, all but the most expensive clubs would be priced out of the market and most of their customers wouldn't have far to travel.

Tower Hamlets' position on this appears to be that there are schools in Canary Wharf too. But if there were no girly pictures allowed on the outside walls, it wouldn't matter. No harm, no foul, no front doors to be urinated on. It's only practical.

For I understand that sex clubs are very lucrative and who better than a financial district to see the value in that?

By the way, I thought you might be interested to know that one of the other non-Muslims on the neighbourhood panel was a transvestite with carrot-coloured hair, who said that he disapproved of strip clubs because he doesn't get propositioned nearly as often when they're open.

And no one knows what will become of The White Swan in Limehouse, a gay club where the enthusiastic stripping is entirely amateur. Suggestions on a postcard to Lutfur Rahman, the mayor of Tower Hamlets.

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* If you have a London pub, bar or club that's open until at least 1am, at least two nights a week and would like its details included on the app, you can email me at horatio@24hourlondon.co.uk

Comments

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