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The big flashpoints over Leveson

29 November 2012

Nick Clegg and David Cameron will return, with their officials, to their speed reading exercise of the hefty Leveson report this morning. The Deputy Prime Minister wasn’t giving much away unsurprisingly, when he spoke to journalists a short while ago as he left his home. He said:

‘In this whole process, everybody wants two things: firstly a strong, independent, raucous press who can hold people in positions of power to account. And secondly to protect ordinary people, the vulnerable, the innocent when the press overstep the mark. That’s the balance we’re trying to strike, and I’m sure we will.’

There is still the possibility that Clegg may give a second statement in the House of Commons later today if he and the Prime Minister fail to agree on the government’s response to Leveson. The two men met last night for 40 minutes, and discussed some of the areas on which they agreed, without reaching any conclusion. The Speaker’s office now says it is a matter for Downing Street, which means that the hypothetical statement has been given a hypothetical nod. The Prime Minister would speak on behalf of the government, and Clegg would speak as party leader.

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As the drama unfolds over the next few hours, it’s worth keeping an eye on a couple of things in particular. The first is the obvious: what new system of press regulation will Lord Leveson recommend? He’s giving a statement himself at 1.30, but apparently won’t be taking questions afterwards. But his report will also include passages on key figures in the government: his verdict on David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt’s contacts with the media will be very interesting, as well those on Labour relationships with the Murdoch press. He may also make a verdict on media ownership, an area Ed Miliband was keen the inquiry should cover. And will he talk about internet publishing at all?

Then there’s whether Clegg does need to give a statement himself, which will effectively make cross-party consensus a tricky thing to achieve from the very start. And once the party leaders have finished speaking in the Commons, the fascinating response of the backbenchers begins. Remember that Cameron’s party is now split between those like George Eustice who believe there have been enough Last Chance Saloons already and that statutory underpinning of a new regulatory system is needed, and Conor Burns, who want a new tough system of self-regulation. Cameron will provoke large groups of his MPs with whatever response he plans.

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Show comments
  • Davidh

    It’s not even that difficult, surely.

    You need a clear set of national laws, not industry regulations, covering the issues – privacy, libel, access of private information. Then the law applies to everybody – print and online media, photographers, journalists, editors, private investigators etc. Yes, a clear privacy law is a must as self-regulation of the press obviously doesn’t work in this regard. It’s parliament’s job to draft clear law and if they can’t make one that outlaws naked photographs of a princess on a balcony or snooping on what individuals do in their bedrooms but allows exposure of corrupt and dishonest public figures then they should look for a new job. That’s what we should be discussing, exactly how far the law should go and what should be protected. Not throwing our rattle out of the pram at the very idea of any regulation.

    And you need some oversight that the police are investigating and applying these laws, which obviously didn’t happen in the phone hacking cases. There’s a dedicated police department for financial crime, right? Why not have a dedicated police department for media crime?

    And the question of media access to government is an entirely separate issue. That’s about lobbying and influence and applies to all industries, not just the media.

    • Colonel Mustard

      The government record of establishing “clear” (and simple) law has not been good for many a long year. Most recent laws have been beset by complex interpretation and enforcement issues and a barrel load of unintended consequences. Societies function better with less not more law.

      • Davidh

        Yes. Clear and simple law. Instead of all this partisan bickering.

  • HooksLaw

    Drama unfolds! What do you care – unlike the rest of us you have already said you are above the law.
    Even the Queen is not above the law.

    • Colonel Mustard

      I don’t think he has said he is above the law but rather than he is not going to comply with it and will take the consequences. That is actually in a fine English tradition of rebellion from Wat Tyler to the Suffragettes. Belief in the state and its laws as omnipotent and always right is unhealthy, especially in the age of Common Purpose. After a lifetime of service to the Sovereign and nation I have never felt so rebellious because what is seeking to control us is not anything we have elected or consented to.

      You are certain to disagree. But please try to do so without being personally abusive, thank you.

  • HooksLaw

    Why should irresponsibility by journalists be a problem or difficulty for politicians? Journalists act like arses and all of a sudden its a crisis for politicians.

    Very rarely do we hear discussed the issue of wrongdoing by police in feeding the media with information. this strikes me as an issue for politicians, but it is so obviously wrongdoing that the law ought to naturally take care of that.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    It’s so difficult to make it interesting when the report hasn’t been published. Good try, no cigar.

  • Colonel Mustard

    It struck me this morning that it is just about feasible that Nick Clegg might become a permanent Deputy Prime Minister, effectively hamstringing every future government with his petulance, obstructiveness, mixed messages and demands. For conservatives it might be better to have a Labour government with him “on board”.

    • Noa

      Electorate says no.

    • Charlie the Chump

      This is what coaltion delivers – politicians like Clegg with no real support from voters, a machine politician gaming the system, a leech in government.

  • Reconstruct

    Classic: Leveson ‘is giving a statement’ but ‘won’t be taking questions’.

    The sneer of cold command.

    • Rhoda Klapp

      However he will be taking questions during paid appearances in his tour of the antipodes, axccording to guido. Nice ozymandias.

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