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.
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.