Clare Short: My day in 'The Sun' and other Page 3 stories

Exclusive extract from 'An Honourable Deception?'
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Indy Politics

In 1986, I stood up in the Commons to introduce my 10-minute rule Bill to take pornographic pictures out of newspapers. I committed to this proposal in early 1986 when Winston Churchill, the then Tory MP for Davyhulme, and the grandson of the wartime leader, introduced an Obscene Publications Bill.

In 1986, I stood up in the Commons to introduce my 10-minute rule Bill to take pornographic pictures out of newspapers. I committed to this proposal in early 1986 when Winston Churchill, the then Tory MP for Davyhulme, and the grandson of the wartime leader, introduced an Obscene Publications Bill.

It was a terrible Bill. It listed a series of images that would be treated as obscene whenever and wherever they were printed, a list which included scenes of horrific violence as well as a variety of descriptions of sexual activity. Its effect would have been to endanger much war reporting, many illustrations in medical textbooks and much sex education material.

I responded with an unrehearsed speech opposing the Bill, but saying that we could introduce more tightly drawn legislation, for example, to remove the degrading images of women as available sex objects that were circulated in the mainstream of society through the tabloid press.

The speech led to an avalanche of enthusiastic letters from women and my decision to introduce a Bill to remove such pictures from newspapers. This has led to a healthy debate about the difference between sexual openness and pornographic degradation, but also to a vicious campaign of vilification of me by The Sun.

This campaign was renewed with great vigour after I left the Government in 2003. A woman journalist asked me at a lunch whether I was still opposed to Page 3. I said I was, and this led to busloads of Page 3 girls parked outside my house all day in the hope of setting up embarrassing photos, and mock-up pictures of me as a very fat Page 3 girl.

They even sent half-dressed people to the house I share with my 84-year-old mother in Birmingham and had people hiding in cars and chasing me down the street in an effort to get embarrassing photographs. I deal with such attacks by not looking at the paper, but it is oppressive to have a double-decker bus plastered with Sun posters outside the front door from seven in the morning. In the afternoon, I rang the police to ask whether traffic restrictions applied to The Sun, and they were eventually moved on.

It is hard not to conclude that The Sun sets out to frighten anyone who might dare to agree that such pictures should be removed from newspapers. It was suggested to me after The Sun's 2003 campaign by a Westminster journalist of long experience that The Sun's attacks should be seen as an issue of privilege; an attempt to bully and intimidate an MP to prevent them from raising issues in the House. The Clerk of the House, whom I consulted, agreed there was an issue to raise; however, the Speaker did not agree and I did not take it further.

My own conclusion about the Page 3 phenomenon, and the subsequent proliferation of pornographic-style images across the media, together with the offensive burden of offers of pornography and Viagra that have to be cleared daily from our e-mail systems, is that we need to push back this ugly coarsening and degradation of our society. I bow to no one in my respect for John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, but I do not believe that inappropriate sexually provocative imagery, plastered across society, is an example of liberty. I also find it very sad that the degraded Sun has been courted so strongly and shown so many favours by Tony Blair and the spin merchants at No 10.

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