As trailed on Coffee House over the past few days, Nick Clegg used his own separate Commons statement to declare his support for the statutory underpinning of the new independent press regulator. He said that nothing in the debate that he had heard so far suggested to him that there was a better system of regulation than the one before MPs today.
‘The long grass is the last place that this problem should end up in,’ he said, adding: ‘I am convinced that he has made a case for legislation.’
The Deputy Prime Minister said he acknowledged that ‘we now need to show how that can be done in a workable way’. But he argued that it was a ‘straw man’ to suggest that law is always a threat to the freedom of the press.
What is interesting is that shortly after David Cameron gave his own statement, his official spokesman hinted that the Prime Minister was not entirely unequivocal on refusing statute. The spokesman said: ‘He did not in his statement rule it out. All he said here is that we need to think very, very carefully.’
Harriet Harman clearly hopes there will be wriggle room on this issue. Like Ed Miliband, she wants to put the proposals to a vote in the House of Commons if the cross-party talks do not produce a constructive outcome by January. Responding to Clegg, she said it would be a ‘craven’ act of bowing to the press and leaving them at ‘the lock-in at the last-chance saloon’. That might not contribute to a convivial atmosphere in the talks taking place in the Prime Minister’s office straight after this debate.
But Clegg also made clear that he does have concerns about specific elements of the Leveson recommendations, rather than accepting them wholeheartedly. He said he was unconvinced that OfCom was suited to regulating the newspaper industry, pointing out that Leveson had conceded in his report that another body could take this on.
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