David Cameron and the editors: united against statute
David Cameron kicked off the meeting with the newspaper editors in No. 10 with a warning to get quickly to a place where “we can look the pro-statute people in the eye and say ‘what would a statute add to this?'”
He sat in for the first 15-20 minutes of the meeting. A fair chunk of the rest of the meeting was spent trying to work out what his minister for lateral thinking – Oliver Letwin – was thinking.
Mr Letwin said he was working on a wheeze which would reassure the public that the press regulation body was properly independent and met the standards Lord Justice Leveson wanted without the requirement of statute. Mr Letwin refused to say what he had in mind but one attendee left thinking it might be a question of asking the lord chief justice or the committee for standards in public life to sign off on the new body’s independence.
One newspaper editor joked that he might complain to Ofcom about broadcasters barring his exit from Downing Street as we asked questions about the meeting. The answers that we got all suggest that the editors plan to get their revised/boosted plan together for the beginning of next week.
It’ll have to satisfy Lord Justice Leveson’s requirements: semi-permanent (not based on annual cash), truly independent in personnel, with no current editors and with all main newspapers buying into it.
There are sleights of hand at work in this whole process. It suited the prime minister’s purposes to look like he was summoning in the press for a talking-to and telling them what’s what. In fact, he and they are trying to get to exactly the same place: self-regulation without statute.
Lord Justice Leveson looks like he thought the relationship was less equal than that. He used the final paragraph of his entire report to warn against “one party break(ing) off” to “seek future favour with powerful proprietors and press barons”. He was quoting Sir John Major (paragraph 146 of the executive summary), and he was writing it as he was already hearing that David Cameron’s position against statutory solutions had hardened since his own oral and written evidence).
The other great sleight of hand is the all-party talks. They look increasingly like camouflage. David Cameron has no intention of taking up the time of parliament to pass legislation he has argued is ill-advised and bad law.
With Labour wedded to Lord Justice Leveson’s statutory solution, the talks look doomed to disagreement. And all the signs are that the Lib Dem leadership will be inclined to row in behind David Cameron’s stance if it thinks the press have come up with something that satisfies the Leveson Report principles.
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