Leveson – political and media reaction

By Anthony Cardew Chairman

Reaction to the Leveson report has been widespread and polarised. On the one hand, wishing to implement the report in full are the Labour party, the Liberals – temporarily released from their support for the Coalition – and the victims and their celebrity supporters. On the other, the Prime Minister and at least half of his party sit rather uncomfortably with the leader writers of the national newspapers.

Not that either side rejects his Lordship’s report out of hand. There is widespread agreement that abuses should be controlled by a new media arbitration process, that the system should be strengthened and the penalties for transgression made substantial. The stumbling block – the Rubicon which the Prime Minister declines to cross – is the need for new processes to be backed by legislation. Not surprisingly, the press agrees, embracing Leveson in its entirety – but without the legal backing which would line up the UK with those countries which license the media.

Differences will not be easily resolved, but political commentators note that Cameron holds the political whip hand. As one points out, in spite of the protests of Ed Miliband, Labour leader, and Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, there is nothing that either can do to force the Prime Minister to pass a law to regulate the press.

The politics of the thing will obsess Westminster watchers for some time to come.

Cameron knows as well as anyone that his stance goes against public opinion (polls, not surprisingly unpublished by newspapers, show around 77% in favour of statutory legislation) but he is wily enough to have divined that whilst people say they feel this way, it is not a voting issue for them. In other words, he wins the favour of the Press, which he desperately needs as we approach 2015, but is unlikely to lose many votes as a result.

Ed Miliband, on the other hand, has taken a different approach. He too knows there aren’t many votes in supporting Leveson directly, but with the judge having scuppered his Party’s attacks on being in bed with News International the Labour leader sees the report as a chance to continue to paint Cameron as too close to the newspaper barons, as well as firing up those in his own Party for whom this whole episode has not been about Press ethics as much as media ownership, in other words Rupert Murdoch.

As one Minister said privately to a Cardew director: “Outside SW1 there’s only two people who care – Alan Rusbridger up in King’s Cross and Hugh Grant in Fulham. The rest of Britain regards this as us talking about us.”

As a Tory party official points out: “David Cameron set up the Leveson inquiry; he decides what to do with it.”

We may be waiting some time.

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