Opinion: Clegg was right to refuse to sign Page 3 protest

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 was the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for East Ham in the 2015 General Election

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  • Kevin McNamara 19th Oct '12 - 4:27pm

    this article first mischaracterises the petition’s purpose – that is, to ask the sun to voluntarily stop page 3, not ban it. this petition is not about misogyny or liberalism, since you mischaracterise the petition in the first instance. this is quite an awful article based on a mistaken evaluation of the facts. i don’t think clegg is a classical liberal either. he barely qualifies for the moniker of economic liberal at times.

  • Neil Monnery 19th Oct '12 - 4:33pm

    ‘but the petition isn’t about *banning* Page 3…’ just getting in there first before everyone else points that out.

  • David, what made you think that the first two sentences in the last paragraph would be a good thing to publish?

  • Alex Baldwin 19th Oct '12 - 5:11pm

    I am not in support of the petition to get rid of Page 3 (for reasons that I have either outlined elsewhere or that I would have to write my own article to lay out), but this piece misses the point quite badly (and is going to get a bit of a drubbing here I reckon).

  • Free speech issue?

    It’s perfectly understandable that a publication which trades on it’s reputation as an opinion former for the masses jealously defends its’ totemic symbol of controversy, especially as it amounts to free advertising for the publication every time it is mentioned.

    But what does the totem symbolise? Attitudes to levels of social inequality, or an adherence to a myopic vision of naked truthfulness?

    News quickly gets old.

  • david thorpe 19th Oct '12 - 5:26pm

    @ kevin Im awrae that the petiton is aksing the sun to stop-but its nit asking the page thee girls what they think-its asking the sun to stop in order to ‘help’ page 3 girls without asking the supposed ‘vicitms’ if they want such help-the essence of nanny staism and prfoundly illiberal.

    @ duncan-to make clear that Im not some sort of voyeur.

    @ alex-please see my reply to kevin above- others have missed the point rather than I

  • Kevin McNamara 19th Oct '12 - 5:27pm

    duncan: quite. i literally had not noticed that until just now.

  • Richard Dean 19th Oct '12 - 5:35pm

    It’s certainly a mistake for government to get involved, but it was probably rather difficult for Lynne Featherstone to stay out. The petition has some of the characteristics of a publicity stunt for Marie Claire maganize. It’s also targeting blame on a very specific company, whereas a responsible government should probably target more generally.

    The petition claims there is a link between Page 3 and objectification leading to domestic violence. It’s certainly appropriate for government to work to reduce such violence. But the link is tenuous at best, not supported by any evidence, and anyone who has been a perpetrator or victim or shocked observer of domestic violence will probably know that Page 3 hasn’t got much if anything to do with it. That violence doesn’t happen only in the families of Sun readers, and the Sun itself certainly doesn’t flinch from condemning such violence on its other pages.

    So I would suggest that Lynne was right to support the emotion against domestic violence, and Nick was thinking clearly and was right not to sign such a confused document.

  • Alex Baldwin 19th Oct '12 - 6:02pm

    Sorry David, but I think you’re missing what’s controversial about comparing having some money in your hand to having a woman sexually available to you. In one case you have the ownership of an object, in the other case you have a relationship with a person. The frustrating thing about this is that your blunt and crude statement plays directly into the hands of the people who want to get rid of Page 3.

  • Alex Baldwin 19th Oct '12 - 6:03pm

    Not that I’m particularly keen to hang onto it, I just don’t think there’s a good argument against them publishing it if they want to.

  • david thorpe 19th Oct '12 - 6:06pm

    @ alex I do see how thats slightly insiensitive-but its the closet analgogy I can find….

  • david thorpe 19th Oct '12 - 6:08pm

    nick clegg in his role as partof the government should not publicallytexpress an opinion on the matter of page three gitrls-even just expressing his dissaproval is wrong-its none of the governments business

  • Kevin McNamara 19th Oct '12 - 6:28pm

    all members of the government are, as i see it, free to express an opinion on matters where there isn’t a government line, no?

    i think nick was wrong not to sign the petition but good luck to him, really. to say his signing would have been inappropriate is just incorrect.

  • Richard Dean 19th Oct '12 - 6:41pm

    There certainly ought to be a government line on domestic violence. There ought to be

    > refuges and programs to support victims – who can be men as well as women and children
    > publicity about what domestic violence is and how victims, perpetrators, and observers can get help
    > research to find out the main causes of the stress that leads to violence, why perpetrators can’t stop
    > programs to help victims manage violent family members, perpetrators to manage themselves, etc
    > advice to neighbours, collegaues, friends on what to do
    > links into the police, justice, culture, and inter-culture management systems,
    > work on what the signs might be of impending trouble can be,
    > work on how to resolve domestic disputes before they get so serious

    and a whole lot more. Does anyone know whether the government is doing anything apart from signing petitions?

  • david thorpe 19th Oct '12 - 7:55pm

    @ mark wright

    very nicely put mark-much pithier than I could manage-hope all is well in bristol.

    @ richard dean

    there is a line on domestic violence-its a criminal offence-what has that to do with page 3 girls

    @ kevoin-

    nick clegg was aksed to sign it in his capacity as dpm-and unforttunatley eveytrthing he is asked to do is in his rolke as DPM-his sex life and football supporting make the news-so his voiews on this will be-its none of the governments buisness-so dont ask government people to do it…

  • “One of the things about modern feminism is that it seems to be a lot about replacing the people who tell women how to live their lives, with different people to tell them how to live their lives.”

    Or, to put it another way, authoritarian feminists aren’t liberals.

  • Richard Dean 19th Oct '12 - 8:05pm

    David Thorpe

    1. Look at the Marie Claire website, you will see the link to domestic violence there, and perhpas learn other things too
    2. If the government line is limited to “it’s an offence”, then the government is failing to address a serious issue

  • “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.”

    What ARE you talking about??? The ‘populist line’ is to keep the circulation of the tabloids bouncing along with bare breasts, not the opposite.

    Has the ‘great communicator’ become the great titilator?

  • Mark – taking page 3 out of the Sun and Star would reduce the number of available glamour shot photo gigs by 730. I think the industry goes wide than that with Zoo/Nuts?FHM etc.

    Richard – there is no link to anything of that sort on the Marie Claire page (as I’d be interested to read it)

  • One of the things about modern feminism is that it seems to be a lot about replacing the people who tell women how to live their lives, with different people to tell them how to live their lives.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard it summed up quite as neatly – bravo Mark!

  • daft h'a'porth 20th Oct '12 - 12:43am

    “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.”

    Yeah, well, thanks for that mature viewpoint. And when you’re done with looking at your money shots, perhaps you could ponder a little on the distinction between tokens exchangeable for goods and/or services and sentient beings who may or may not choose to share some aspect of their lives with you.

    ” 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.”

    And there I think you have put your finger, figuratively speaking, on the root of the issue. You apparently disagree with others about how many people are, or are not, harmed by said arrangement. You’re free to disagree with those arguments — hey, I’m not sure that I agree with the ‘ban Page 3’ concept myself; personally I’d stick the Sun on a top shelf with the rest of the tits-out trash–but ignoring those arguments as though they have never been made is pretty rude. Here you go, you can start with refuting Featherstone’s comments here.

    Incidentally, ‘if one consenting adult, of ANY gender, chooses to enter into an arrangement affecting HER own body’…? If you believe what you are typing it is worth trying to keep it consistent to the end of the sentence. And ‘mere Page 3 girls’? Mere??? Sir — diplomacy is not your metier.

  • david thorpe 20th Oct '12 - 1:05am


    the government cant make moral stances-

  • The first thing you have to decide is whether you would prefer to live in a world with naked pictures of women in widely-circulated papers, or whether you would prefer to live in a world without such pictures. Which is the desirable outcome? Once you’ve figured that out, you can start talking ways and means. But if you keep confusing questions about means with questions about outcomes, then you get people saying things like “If you would prefer that the Sun not print pictures of naked women on page 3, you must be for police-state censorship,” or, alternatively, “If you don’t think there’s a way to get rid of page 3 that respects rights and freedoms, you obviously consider women as nothing but sexual objects.” That’s not exactly the way to have an intelligent conversation.

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '12 - 8:39am

    Here is the link to the Marie Claire page
    Amongst other things the webpage says:Celebrities … are also backing calls to remove Page 3, which features young women baring their breasts next to a caption based on a major news story of the day. Lynne Featherstone MP said she believed Page 3 ‘contributed to domestic violence’ as women are ‘sexualised in the public space’

    and here is the link that is on the Marie Claire page and links to the petition (however, it is better to go via the Marie Claire page because then you get a non-zero numbers of signatories so far)
    Amongst other things the petition says: “stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects”

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '12 - 8:43am

    The government certainly can and should take a stance against domestic violence. The stance should be include action as well as words, and should include organizing and collaborating with others against it

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '12 - 8:54am

    Marie Claire does of course publish photos of women.
    Not naked, but clothed in expensive clothes, wearing expensive perfumes, dreaming expensive dreams, …
    Objectification not based on ogling breasts, but on gimme money!

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Oct '12 - 10:34am

    Mark Wright: “At least this article does raise one new point not previously aired in the other #236 articles, which is the jobs of the Page 3 girls that the petition are wanting make unemployed.”

    Though I have raised that point in several of the comments pages so it’s not new. I find the idea of petitioning an organisation to sack a number of its young employees really out of order, in the absence of conclusive proof (and none is ever offered) that what they are doing is harmful to themselves or others.

  • @david thorpe:

    “the government cant make moral stances”

    Actually, that’s one of the few useful things it could do. Stop trying to create (often useless at best) legislation for everything and show a bit of genuine leadership – including moral leadership.

    This issue is not about the women who make the choices to allow their body to be exploited to enhance and consolidate stereotypes. It’s about the millions of women who suffer day after day at the hands of men who have become brainwashed into making assumptions regarding sexuality, power, objectification.

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '12 - 1:39pm

    Page 3 is brainwashing? What about the ads that use sex to sell anything from cars to candlesticks, chocolates to perfumes to fashions to broadband systems? Stuff that Marie Claire does too. Removing Page 3 will fix all that?

    Here is some of the more relevant stuff the government is doing, seemingly rather slowly, on domestic violence

  • Richard – that doesn’t give any evidence of a link between page 3 and domestic violence (a belief in something isn’t evidence).

    There is certainly evidence of sexual prejudice but the causes of that are many and varied. Is there for example a higher rate of Sun & Star readers among perpetrators? Did the level drop off after the Mirror stopped running page 3 girls in the 80s.

    (For the record I’ve argued for page 3 and other news media featuring topless women to be treated in the way porn mags are (ie sold under particular restrictions)

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '12 - 8:18pm

    @Hywel – Glad to see you looked at the Home Office website. Also glad to see you agree that a link between Page 3 and domestic violence or sexual abuse or even poor attitudes doesn’t seem to have been established at all.

    The link between Page 3 and domestic violence was made on the Marie Calire website, who quoted Lynne Featherstone’s claim that Page 3 contributed to domestic violence.

    A link to sexual abuse was claimed to exist in the article heading the previous thread on this topic. https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-cleggs-cockup-over-page-3-he-should-sign-the-no-more-page-three-petition-now-30793.html#comments

    That article linked to a project designed to collect information about sexism. None of the stories I read there seem to claim that page 3 was involved (I didn’t had time to read them all)

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