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A victory for press freedom (with thanks to Spectator readers and a few brave MPs)

At the start of last year, The Spectator sought the help of readers in defending press freedom. Theresa May’s government was consulting on whether to press ahead with a draconian new law that would make publications like ours liable for the costs of anyone who wanted to sue us, for any reason they chose. The law, a hangover from the Leveson Inquiry, was intended as a way of bullying titles into signing up to Impress, a would-be press regulator bankrolled by the egregious Max Mosley.

The legislation in question – Section 40 of the Crime & Courts Act – had been put out to consultation by the Culture Secretary and such things are often a numbers game. After a leading article about Section 40 in our Hogmanay edition I was contacted by a Spectator reader who kindly set up a website where readers could respond to the consultation via a website, and in their own terms. You did, in your hundreds, and told the government in fairly plain terms where they could stick their plans. The rules of this consultation means that any response, even if it’s a two-word response, has to be logged.

And today, finally, Matt Hancock has responded by saying he will honour his party’s 2017 manifesto pledge to drop the second part of the Leveson Inquiry. Nothing is completely decided yet, and you can bet the House of Lords will be voting (as it did recently) to harass the press in other ways. But to those readers who did join our petition, and reminded the government of its obligation to press freedom, thank you. It was you wot won it.

PS: We ought not to forget those handful of MPs who also believe in press freedom. In 2013, The Spectator parliamentarian of the Year award went to not one but 15 members of parliament who were the only ones to vote to protect press freedom. A consensus had been reached by Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP that it was time for the government to set up a regulator, and establish a power hierarchy with politicians at the top. The sense of defiance was kept alive that day. The rebels are listed below:

  1. Richard Bacon
  2. Christopher Chope
  3. Tracey Crouch
  4. Nick de Bois
  5. Philip Davies
  6. Richard Drax
  7. Nigel Mills
  8. Andrew Percy
  9. Mark Reckless
  10. John Redwood
  11. Jacob Rees-Mogg
  12. Andrew Turner
  13. Martin Vickers
  14. Charles Walker
  15. Sarah Wollaston

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