In common with most of you, when I saw that Nick Clegg was The Sun newspaper’s hero of the week – I grew worried that the path to populism which Clegg has embraced in recent months had led to a particularly illiberal precipice.
Clegg has, since the unveiling of the differentiation strategy come to resemble politically the drunken man wandering from bar to bar trying to get served one final time, as the Deputy Prime Minister lurches from one initiative to another, hoping to turn the alchemy of populism into the solid gold of popularity. I discuss this further here and here
But in declining to back the banning on Page 3 girls, Nick has taken a position which is both intrinsically liberal and destined to annoy some of his core support. That has been the hallmark of Clegg’s time as Lib Dem leader, retreating from the cosy populism of a previous generation of Lib Dem leaders in search of the higher ground, on the rockier terrain of classical liberalism. Clegg cited opposition to the idea that the government should not dictate the content of newspapers in a free society – as the Leveson enquiry prepares to report, that’s a stance with wider implications than mere Page 3 girls.
The second reason why liberals of all persuasions should welcome Clegg’s stance is that its misogynistic for a mostly male government to support the restriction of a woman’s freedom to choose how she uses her body. Quite simply, it should be none of any government’s business if one consenting adult – of any gender – chooses to enter into an economic arrangement affecting her own body and no one else’s.
There is no suggestion that any Page 3 girl has ever been coerced into taking part – or that any of the girls are underage.
This article is not motivated by any particular admiration for the Page 3 girl, the attraction of looking at pictures of a scantily clad woman is one which I grew out of as soon as I was able to see the real thing in the flesh. It’s comparable to looking at a photograph of money compared to actually having the money in one’s hand. But the Page 3 girl is a market participant in a market of free choice and expression – if the Sun newspaper and its readers want to pay her for something she is happy to do – then the government should leave well alone and concentrate on those economic acts which actually do harm society.
* David Thorpe is a member of the Liberal Democrats in Newham, and works for an economics publication.