3 Dec 2012

What press will the unborn royal grow up under?

As an embryonic royal potential press intrusion victim is announced to the world, the Commons debates the Leveson Report.

It was a pretty confusing affair. Maria Miller tried to walk the tricky line established by the Prime Minister. He has said he embraces Leveson but doesn’t want the central proposition that the judge laboured so long to produce: statutory underpinning for a self-regulatory body. Maria Miller while maintaining the PM’s line that law changes were wrong, at one point in the debate said that the government would hold the threat of such laws over the newspapers’ heads and bring in laws if their revised proposals for self-regulation weren’t up to the job. It’s not entirely clear whether she meant to say that as she’d gone to great lengths to avoid saying it in earlier answers.

We now face the prospect in a couple of weeks’ time of being able to look at several different versions of what a bill implementing Leveson might look like: a Labour version and some versions from different pressure groups or groups of lawyers plus a government version. That government draft bill was the one sources around Whitehall were tipping people off was being designed to point out the flaws of the whole approach. Nick Clegg has now put a spy in the Culture Department cab with the appointment of Lord (Jim) Wallace to make sure the bill is not drafted to fail. At some point before Christmas the prime minister will be able to compare and contrast the remedies on offer.

Tomorrow’s meeting with the newspaper editors is all about trying to make sure that the choice he wants to make – revised self-regulation – is sellable and as close as possible to the Leveson demands. One senior Lib Dem mocked how No. 10 was selling the meeting as some sort of “reading the riot act” type event. We’re told David Cameron himself will “drop in” West Wing-style, on the meeting being chaired by Maria Miller. The messages will be “don’t let me down” and “produce your revised/hardened plans pronto.”

All parties have their divisions on this whole area but Labour’s dissidents are not great in number on this issue and I think, for now, those Lib Dems unhappy with their leader’s support of legislation are keeping quiet. There’s only 1 of their MPs in the House for this statement. The Tories’ disagreements have been on greater show. Sir Edward Garnier just told a fellow Tory MP (Therese Coffey) to “stop muttering” against him. Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Sir Gerald Howarth tried to get Maria Miller to support legislation. The “pro-legislative underpinning” Tory faction is either fast declining from 40 in numbers or at 70 and gaining depending on who you talk to.

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