This evening, I will be appearing at the University of Sussex’s Student Union to debate “This House believes Page Three Should Be Banned”. True to modern political practice, here is the text of the speech I will give: 

Last year a petition on an online site calling for Page 3 to be banned, managed to collect 40,000 signatures, so Newsnight ran a piece on it in which Harriet Harman debated with Neil Wallis who is here today.

I saw that and was sort of provoked into a fit of libertarian righteousness, so I did the obvious thing, I whipped my laptop out and wrote an article for The Commentator putting forward the view that the drive to ban things like page three was a puritanism  – and that that sort of thing ought to have left our shores along with the puritans that sailed for the American colonies centuries ago.

I’m assuming that it was that article that got me invited here this evening, so I revisited it when writing this speech, to remind myself which arguments I’d used. While I was there I perused the comments section – and came across this, which I thought put the argument much more succinctly than I’d managed.

Someone called “Pat” said:

Some girls have figures, some have the ability to do figures, a lucky few have both.

That the first group should be able to profit from their gifts seems as obvious to me as that the second group should be able to profit from theirs.

Of course there are many with both gifts who need to maximise their returns to pay for the education that developed their ability to do figures.

As to exploitation, perhaps Ms. Harman is right, but if so she should be asking that they be paid more, not banned from working. It seems a bit odd to put people out of work in order to save them. Or does Ms. Harman think that closing down factories is a way of improving the lives of the workers?

You can tell I’m a writer because Pat managed to say in 130 words, what it took me nearly 750 to convey.

At it’s very heart, the case against Page Three boils down to snobbery.

In the Newsnight debate I mentioned, Harriet Harman said “girls should be able to have higher aspirations than just looking good”. Girls are able to have other aspirations. I won’t use the word ‘higher’ because I’m not willing to make a value judgement on other people’s career choices.

Girls have been outdoing boys in terms of GCSEs and A level results for the past couple of decades, and have now overtaken their male contemporaries in terms of pay – at least in their early careers. The ONS found that women in their 20s earned 1.8 per cent more than men of the same age in 2010, rising to 2.4 per cent in 2011 and 2.9 per cent in 2012.

Girls have worked hard, studied, and as women are able to fully compete with men in the world of work. What Ms Harman, Caroline Lucas and Marina Pepper don’t like is that some girls actively choose to be glamour models as a career, and the reason they don’t like it is because they are snobs.

Guardian readers such as my opponents here don’t like The Sun – it has very little to do with the girls themselves – because it appeals to the working classes. It’s rough and ready. It’s read by white van men, hairdressers, labourers.  And it revels in the more salacious side of life.

That sort of thing has always horrified the more ‘refined’ middle classes.

But guardian readers can’t simply ban The Sun, much as they’d like to, so they go after what they can – the girls on page three. That sort of thing can be dressed up as a moral crusade, whereas attempts to close down free speech are rather more tricky to sell to the public, particularly when so many of the public are buying The Sun.

Y’know, just yesterday I was thinking about how those on the left tend to use an idea to promote its polar opposite – in that case it was Nick Clegg calling people who want Britain to be a sovereign nation ‘unpatriotic’, which I actually found quite funny. And here we see it again: In this case, the left is using feminism as a cover for using women to attack the working classes, which doesn’t strike me as particularly feminist at all.

Anyway, you can tell the campaign to ban Page Three is driven by snobbery as there isn’t a parallel petition to shut down fine art galleries, which regularly show photographs of nudes. I have a few here.

fineartnude3     fineartnude2     fineartnude

This last one was taken from a photographers website, where it was filed under the heading “celebrating women”. Isn’t celebrating women, including their form, something that self-proclaimed feminists should be doing?

A couple of weeks ago the Daily Politics did one of their balls-in-glass-boxes polls on whether Page 3 should be banned, and they asked participants to justify their choice. One woman, who voted for it to be banned, said “I have my young daughter here today. I don’t want her growing up seeing breasts”. Well, I have news love, she’s going to have two of her own one day. Why teach her to be ashamed of them?

Going back to Pat’s comments, some women are good at figures, some women have good figures. A great many women who don’t have the sort of figure needed for a career as a glamour model nonetheless like their own figures. All of us here are wearing makeup and nice clothes because we enjoy looking good. We take pleasure in being feminine, in dressing up, doing our hair, wearing clothes designed to make the most of our figures.

And of course we do it because it helps us get along in our chosen careers. All of us dress appropriately according to our jobs. Caroline Lucas was told to put a jacket on in the House of Commons over the summer because she was wearing a t-shirt with a political slogan on it. When interviewed by the media, a House of Commons spokesman said: “By convention members are expected not to use their clothing to display slogans or make debating points – members are expected to make their arguments through their speeches.”

So apparently Ms Lucas thinks that it’s ok for her to use her body rather than her wit to do her job, albeit as a billboard in this case, but not ok for Page three girls to do so.

And of course, there’s a far more important point to be made here – that of the general call to ‘ban things’ at all.

You might not like page 3. I can’t say I ever look at the girls when I read that paper. However, imagine that we had a society where we banned everything that a vocal minority did not like. What would such a society look like? I might want to ban people turning up at a village they don’t live in and protesting about natural gas extraction, others might want to ban certain sexual acts they regard as immoral. Some people in the room might want to ban certain literature or plays; still others might want to ban night clubs and other activities that causes noisy and disruptive behaviours on the streets at night.

If you have confidence in your case, public pressure will eventually be successful and that is exactly how it should be in a free society. If we all try to get our way by banning things we do not like instead of living peacefully and tolerating things we do not like about the behaviour of others, our lives will just turn into a power struggle as we all seek to ban things that do not accord with our taste.

Who should be the arbiters of taste? You? Me?

Isn’t it the mark of a civilised society that the people within it respect each other’s choices, even if they don’t agree with them?


Along with the original Commentator article, I set up a petition to keep the page three girls. It’s still open – you can sign it here

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