Campaigners protesting against Page 3 in 2012. Photo: Getty
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The “return” of Page 3: the Sun revels in the chance to make women with opinions look stupid

For one riotous day, women got to live in a world where in a small but symbolic way our bodies weren’t put on display as consumables.

The purpose of Page 3 is to humiliate, chasten and bully women. That was true when the Sun mocked Clare Short as “fat and jealous” for her campaign to end the nation’s favourite current affairs softcore feature. It was true when the Sun ran those needling, nasty “News in Briefs” boxes alongside the models, urging readers to chortle at the idea that a woman might simultaneously have symmetrical mammary tissue and a thought in her head.

It was true when I worked in a supermarket, sitting in the canteen holding my breath while the man on the table with me rustled over Page 3 – would he flick straight past it today, or would I sit there picking at my crisps and yanking awkwardly at the hem of my tabard, while he studied the curves and smiled his satisfaction that they were there on show for him? It was true when I worked in a pub, where the punters didn’t even bother to take their pleasure quietly, but would debate the merits of the aureola over lunchtime pints then send me for something from the bottom shelf so they could have a look at my bum.

It is true today, when the Sun gloatingly reveals – with all the moral intelligence and disarming wit of a small child grinning at you with cornflake-coated teeth and saying, “Fooled you! I didn’t really brush my teeth!” – that it’s not actually axing Page 3 after all. It’s impossible to know whether this is a deliberate stunt or a clumsy retreat, although the fact that the axing was initially reported by the Sun’s sister paper the Times means that it was definitely something. In any case, Sun PR head Dylan Sharpe was having a fine time of it on Twitter this morning, shooting the winking image of Nicola, 22, from Bournemouth at Harriet Harman and other perceived enemies of Page 3 – because what after all is Page 3 for, if not rubbing in the faces of women who’ve annoyed you by speaking out of turn?

What a joke, though. For one riotous, rumspringa day, women got to live in a world where in a small but symbolic way our bodies weren’t put on display as consumables. Sure, there was still the porn to deal with, and all the pornified advertising, and the magazines with their pictures of gleaming dead-eyed do-nothing beauty, and the paparazzi shots of the demi-famous in bikinis that appear regularly in the Sun anyway, but there was no more Page 3. That particular ritual of feminine submission – lips parted in a receptive smile, hair lightly tousled, breasts bare and available – was done for. (And please, don’t try the line that this is about the models “celebrating female sexuality”. One of the things about sexuality is that it encompasses things people do because they feel good. If the models were turned on, they wouldn’t need paying.)

And what in any case is stopping the Sun from making the call to end Page 3? As a feature, it’s tired and tawdry, stranded between the routine extremity of the degradations on offer online and a public increasingly unwilling to accept that it’s just normal to put female flesh on sale. Aggrieved men deprived of their daily dose of nipple can cry “censorship” all they like, but this was never about putting the press through the approval of any government agency. Editors decide not to publish things all the time. That’s what editing is. The No More Page 3 campaign has always been about asking – politely, kindly – if the Sun’s editor wouldn’t just consider that this one regular has run its course, and perhaps it’s time to start treating women as people worthy of coverage for more than our relative perkiness and willingness to go topless.

Such a small thing to ask after all. But it means so much to the men who need it: every day in newsprint, they can find the confirmation that women exist not to speak and not to act, but merely to be in placid service of male libido. That’s why the Sun won’t give Page 3 up easily. That’s why the tense-jawed male columnists all tumbled out their bag of clichés yesterday, squeezing together something about Charlie Hebdo and that Orwell essay about saucy postcards to reach the conclusion that – goodness – the right to print pictures of tits is one of the most sacred aspects of English free speech, and doubtless what the drafters of Magna Carta really had in mind.

For men who want women to be soft, pliable and wank-overable, giving up Page 3 really is too much to ask. And that’s why the Sun won’t let it go without exploiting it right to the very last gasp as a way to make women look stupid. Maybe we are. Stupid to think it was worth asking nicely. Stupid to think that if we were respectful and considered, we might get respect and consideration in reply. We have so much to fight for, and when the Sun finally gives up on its idiot daily pantomime of woman-as-shag-toy, it will only be the start.

 

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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