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Nadine Dorries MP

Nadine Dorries MP: The political and media classes have not correctly understood public opinion on Leveson

Throughout the Leveson enquiry, I was amazed by the number of people who watched it religiously from home. I know of people who work from home who took breaks during the evidence sessions from key witnesses. 

I heard from a constituent who timed his dog walks around the hearings. A friend organised her outings and her diary around Leveson TV and, as throwaway comments in the pub and at gatherings, I heard people make comments such as "ooh, it's Rowling's turn tomorrow at Leveson". Although these various shared and overheard comments had made me take on board the fact that people across the country appeared to have become armchair lawyers, I didn't give the phenomenon much thought, until now. 

Leveson was thrilling. It brought public figures, those the public usually only see within the stuffy, rigid format of Westminster, to the chair and the rigorous questioning of a QC. They were being held to account by someone they couldn't spin to. It brought ordinary people like themselves in the form of Milly Dowler's parents to have their voices heard. The saw their much loved celebrities such as Rowling, Grant and others on the screen in a way they would never normally get to see them. For many, Leveson was intoxicating.

The media powers that be may think people hate public figures such as MPs and so frequently throw them what they think they want in the form of disingenuous articles in newsprint. They may be about to discover that the public hate journalists and newspapers just as much. 

A YouGov survey has shown that by 50% to 29%, the public think that David Cameron is wrong to ignore Leveson's recommendations to introduce controlling legislation. 66% think Nick Clegg was right to have made a separate statement distancing himself from Cameron and backing the Leveson proposal for legislation. It is a well known secret that for months, journalists have been lobbying No10 and the government machine very hard to resist a call for legislation. It would appear that maybe No10 has been listening.

Those who gave evidence, such as J.K. Rowling, are already making their feelings regarding the Prime Minister's position known. They aren't happy. The public trust their favourite authors with no political or electoral agenda. 

The number of people who think Cameron is wrong and Clegg is right may increase as a vote looms. The number of people who buy newspapers is declining, dramatically. The power of television, which presented the Leveson enquiry in all its glory without the opinion filter of a faceless journalist or newspaper editor, will inform and influence public opinion far more than newspapers will or can as the weeks progress. 

People are making a clear distinction. Regardless of the rights and wrongs, I believe they will be happy to see politicians impose and control legislating the press. They will view it as a necessary evil to protect ordinary people and the celebrities they love from unscrupulous journalism. 

Yesterday I spoke to a mild-mannered professional who never reads a newspaper but who does buy The Week and, on Saturday, the Financial Times. She told me it was the only way she could access the news in a way which she felt was unbiased and didn't repel her. I asked her if she thought legislation was an extreme measure and her response was an emphatic "no", adding that she couldn't imagine her Saturday FT or The Week would have anything to fear. She never reads internet sites because she doesn't trust them as they are unaccountable.

I think we politicians and journalists have a long way to go to understand where the public are, specifically with regard to newspapers. In the same way the Queen underestimated public opinion at the time of Diana's death, and MPs at the time of the expenses enquiry, newspaper editors appear to be doing it right now - they don't get it. 

The polls show that Nick Clegg may have called it. He has backed Leveson and in doing so, backed the public. It may be just the break the beleaguered leader was looking for. 


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