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A shackled Parliament debates shackling the press

By Harry Phibbs
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Today we saw the House of Commons at its worst. A cross Party consensus for press censorship was in full cry. All those advocating it were careful to stress their support for press freedom. Just as, I suppose, supporters of North Korea are solicitous in remembering its official name is the Democratic People's Republic.

Then there was all the oleaginous sanctimonious display of self righteousness and exchanged tributes. A couple of hours of this and how I longed for a return to the rowdy point scoring.

Ed Miliband hammed it up as if he was at the Oscars.

There was the craven response from Nick Clegg that although phone hacking was already illegal it was still justified to bring in further restrictions because Lord Leveson said so.

Thus we had a Parliament that had suspended its critical facilities, that had shackled itself from proper debate while an expedient deal to shackle the press was pushed through.

Comments from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Peter Lilley pointing out the absurdities in what were proposed were treated as awkward interruptions. Mr Lilley urged other media outlets to "have the courage" of The Spectator and refuse to have any part of grovelling to the wretched Quango.

David Blunkett's impatience with Index on Censorship encapsulated the contemptuous, dismissive tone of those wanting to get control of the press after all these years. Simon Hughes said how grateful MPs were for the expenses scandal exposure. Pull the other one.

As for David Cameron, who clearly doesn't really believe in press censorship, wouldn't it have been so much better to have gone down to an honest defeat on the issue rather than gone along with this stitch up?

Nor was it reassuring to have former journalists speaking up for the proposed regulation. Sadly having practised the trade does not guarantee that its cause will be defended. After all Alastair Campbell used to be a journalist and he is quite open in declaring that he wants newspapers such as the Daily Mail to cease existing.

Today has not only been a bad day for freedom but a bad day for democracy with a reminder of the failings of a hung Parliament. MPs fall into line while the real decisions are made elsewhere - with politicians haggling over takeway pizzas cravenly waiting for the approval of unelected lobby groups standing over them.


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