14 Mar 2013

Clegg ‘not impressed’ after Cameron pulls press reform plug

Around 10am, David Cameron called Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

I’m told the call was “not good natured.”

Indeed, Nick Clegg went in to speak to David Cameron later on and told the PM he was “not impressed” by his approach of stopping the cross-party talks on pres reform.

Nick Clegg had just suggested on TV that David Cameron was guilty of “political point-scoring” and acting in his “narrow self-interest.” Ed Miliband told the PM in the phone call that he was making an “historic mistake”.

Nick Clegg didn’t rule out trying again to get a consensus ahead of Monday (it is only Thursday) but his team thinks the chances of that are remote.

Both Labour and Lib Dem sources close to the talks formerly known as multi-party say they got the impression that although the PM has emphasised hostility to “full-blown state regulation” (a phrase people say is quite a favourite of the Daily Mail boss Paul Dacre) they sensed that he was also very keen not to oppose the press on who writes the press rules and whether the press should have a veto on the chief regulator.

It’s far from clear where things go from Monday, even if the House of Commons was able to get a majority behind a Lib/Lab measure. If the Lib/Lab measure got all the way to the statute book, David Cameron has said in his press conference this morning it would be “unworkable.”

One senior Lib Dem said the prime minister appeared to be giving “licence” to newspapers to walk away from the new regulator if it wasn’t designed to his specifications.

I’m getting a picture from those who’ve seen David Cameron this week that he was a man under “the most extraordinary pressure.” The Eastleigh result had been topped off with leadership speculation and he desperately needs good coverage for the budget next week and the local elections in May to help to forestall more trouble from his own party.

He may even get some good coverage in return for this stand… but you wouldn’t bet the house on it carrying on for long.

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