Let's put internet porn on a new top shelf

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'The moment the very name of Ireland is mentioned,' wrote Sydney Smith, the celebrated 19th-century churchman and wit, 'the English seem to bid adieu to common feeling, common prudence and common sense.' (He went on to say that they acted 'with the barbarity of tyrants and the fatuity of idiots', but that was a long time ago, before Dublin became the preferred destination for English stag parties.)

Substitute 'online pornography' for 'Ireland' and 'everyone' for 'the English' in Smith's aphorism, and you have it in a nutshell. There is something about the subject of porn that causes people to leave their brains at home before pronouncing on it.

As an example, consider the hoo-hah last week after a Home Office minister announced on BBC Radio 4's Today programme (where else?) that the government was to ban certain kinds of violent online pornography.

'Pshaw!' said sceptics. 'It's impossible to censor the internet.' But this was entirely beside the point.

It is indeed difficult to censor the net, in the sense of stopping stuff being published on servers that are physically based in other legal jurisdictions. But that's not what the Home Office has in mind.

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