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Collective responsibility and the Leveson report

15 January 2013

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has signed off on an agreed breach of collective responsibility in the boundaries vote, but what does that mean for the way the government works from now on?

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman argued this afternoon that this did not in any way set a precedent for the way the two coalition parties vote on other policies. He added:

‘The Cabinet Secretary was consulted. It has been formally agreed but only in this specific instance. Having consulted the Cabinet Secretary, they recorded their agreement to set aside collective responsibility on this occasion. The rules with regard to this allow for the setting aside on very specific issues of collective responsibility where, as in this case, the two party leaders have agreed that.’

Even if you buy the idea that this is is all fine and above board and that Lords reform and the boundaries are linked in the Coalition Agreement (on which matter, more here), it is very difficult to accept that this is the last time ministers will be tempted to use this in the Coalition. There might be many policies where the two parties are able to reconcile their differences before bills reach the Commons, but on one issue, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have already broken with another piece of government protocol by giving separate Commons statements on the Leveson report.

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Then, the Lib Dems were keen to give their own viewpoint because Nick Clegg disagreed with David Cameron’s rejection of statutory underpinning. The talks are still ongoing, but a crunch point is already approaching. At the end of the month, Labour is planning to force a vote on its own draft Leveson legislation. Now the party obviously does not have any power to bring legislation into play, but a carefully-worded motion calling for statutory underpinning could well create some dividing lines which could include the Lib Dems.

Downing Street says all this is rather too hypothetical at the moment to start considering whether collective responsibility could be suspended for a second time to allow Lib Dem ministers to express their own party line on press regulation. Besides, the talks are progressing pretty well at the moment: Tories are impressed with the way Ed Miliband and colleagues are trying to avoid making this a party political football, and if consensus is possible on the idea of a Royal Charter, then an insurrection in the Commons may not be necessary.

But if divisions over the fundamental question of whether to use statute or not open up, the ground has already been prepared for separate party stances on Leveson within the Coalition. In that instance, Sir Jeremy Heywood would have to decide whether collective responsibility should be waived again.

Is Leveson a fundamental threat to a free press? On Wednesday 30 January, the Spectator hosts a debate between advocates of statutory regulation Chris Bryant and Max Mosley and those against statute, Richard Littlejohn, Paul Staines and John Whittingdale. You can book tickets here.

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Show comments
  • anyfool

    What a scam, setting a precedent for, Having your cake and eating it. no shame, no morals, no idea. what a shower of.

  • williamblakesghost

    The Coalition is a joke. The Libdems are unfit to hold power and by his actions so is David Cameron. Last but not least Leveson turned into another pointless embarrassing Westminster wankfest.

    It is quite embarrassing to consider that our political class is made up of the Westminster Freakshow

  • 2trueblue

    The killer point is that democracy is because we have a bunch of self serving politicians who think it is alright to play with fairness. The LibDums are the worst thing that has happened to us. If Cameron had had any sense he would have called another election there and then, and frankly it is not too late for him to get on with it. He will not get in if he waits until 2015.
    Levenson was a total waste of time, all those politicians posturing. Liebore presided over the main part of the whole debacle and did not ensure that the law was applied. The law was there, but no one was prepared to enforce it. Liebore are very good at avoiding mud sticking. Remember ‘Teflon Tony’?

    • Tom Tom

      Democracy is a myth.

      • realfish

        …and the Lib Dems make their position clear where it comes to the freedom of the press with the terminally airheaded Lynne Featherstone’s call for the sacking of an Observer writer and her Editor, over a piece that she disagrees with…and has obviously not read.
        Two and a half years in, the Lib Dems still have difficulty with this ‘being in Government’ business. Being the party of the protest vote and the occasional by-election triumph is about all they are good for.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Teaching the children (or libdems, if you prefer) that they may misbehave with impunity is going to end in tears.

    • williamblakesghost

      Do not sully children’s reputations by associating them with the Libdems

    • Noa

      Or most likely, a good smacking by the voters.

  • Tom Tom

    Political Power is about Power nothing else. The coup d’etat which fixed the parliamentary term Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 was as big a racket as the The Septennial Act 1715 and done for party advantage. Once in power they do as they please, it is Winner Takes All and the voters should get used to being treated like serfs

  • Stephen Percival

    Hindsight proved Leveson to be useless. Already parties are putting forward their “own” approaches and cherry picking the statutory bible Leveson drafted…which further proved to be poorly researched with wiki quotes. I know it’s a cliche but a fine example of tax money wasted methinks.

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