Conservative Diary

Fleet Street

28 Nov 2012 15:46:26

The politics of Leveson are likely to rumble on and on

By Peter Hoskin
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Here is something that’s become clearer today: the Leveson Report will mean a tricky game of Parliamentary politics for David Cameron. There are — as a comparison of the letter signed by 42 Tory parliamentarians last night with the one signed by 42 Tory MPs a few weeks ago suggests — strong differences of opinion within his own party. And there are strong differences outside it, too. It’s emerged this afternoon that Nick Clegg is looking into making a separate statement to the House after Mr Cameron’s tomorrow, just in case the two men cannot agree on a unified Government response to Leveson’s recommendations. It may not come to that, but it’s another sign of how fissiparous this whole matter threatens to be.

All of which raises questions about Cameron’s statement tomorrow. If he does manage to produce a detailed Government (or even just Tory leadership) response to the Leveson Report, how will that square with the offer he made in PMQs to “work across party lines on this issue”? There is, after all, a good chance that Ed Miliband and the Labour party — let alone huge portions of the Tory party — would disagree with that response. Whereas if Cameron sticks to easy generalities, so that he doesn’t alienate the rest of Parliament, the question immediately changes to this: how long will it take for him to carve out a position that’s amenable to all, or at least to the majority?

In either case, I wouldn’t place money on a speedy resolution.

Update: The Spectator's James Forsyth has more here, including:

"I’m informed by someone involved in the coalition negotiations on the issue that the reason the Liberal Democrats want to be able to make their own statement on the Leveson Report is that they intend to back the rapid creation of a statutory back-stop for newspaper regulation. By contrast, I hear that Davud Cameron doesn’t want to back any press law, at least for now."

25 Nov 2012 08:53:13

Cameron will not agree to statutory regulation of the press when Leveson reports next week

By Matthew Barrett
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Cameron Serious 1009The Leveson Inquiry reports next week, and the Prime Minister's response has, understandably, been of keen interest to those in Westminster and on Fleet Street. This morning's newspapers will please those in Fleet Street: the Prime Minister is apparently of a mind to reject the prospect of statutory regulation of the press, which Lord Justice Leveson is widely expected to recommend.

The Prime Minister will instead favour some level of tighter regulation to make the press more responsible. The leading proposal that protects the independence of the press while enforcing higher standards is that of Lord Hunt, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, and Lord Black, of the Telegraph Media Group. Their proposal, which has been found acceptable by all newspapers, would establish an independent regulator able to administer heavy fines.

The Independent on Sunday suggests another proposal for compromise would be the introduction of statutory regulation but with a "sunset clause" in the Bill that Parliament would consider, meaning that the legislation would have to be renewed by fresh parliamentary consent and would expire if deemed to be a failure. If this proposal were to be explored, the timing of the "sunset" period would be of particular interest to anti-statutory-regulators, since not all parties are as committed to press freedom, and whoever wins a majority at the next election could decide the permanent fate of any such Bill.

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10 Nov 2012 12:19:32

Bullying MPs won't help the cause of press freedom

By Tim Montgomerie
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6a00d83451b31c69e2017ee4ee195d970d-150wiOn ConservativeHome today Nadhim Zahawi MP makes the case for independent and statutory regulation of Britain's newspaper industry. The MP for Stratford-upon-Avon argues that Conservatives have always stood up against "unaccountable power" and it is time to do so again - particularly for the benefit of the little guy:

"One of the main points of having a press regulator is to help resolve disputes before they make it to court. Celebrities are big enough to look after themselves, but not everyone has the legal muscle to sue a multimillion-pound company for defamation or breach of privacy. Many would much prefer a printed apology or right of reply to a long and costly legal battle. After all, as the internet has reminded us, free speech is a dialogue; it’s about hearing both sides of the story. The kind of regulator I envisage would focus on mediation, with credible sanctions as a last resort."

Nadhim and George Eustice MP were the instigators of yesterday's letter in which 42 Tory MPs (and two peers) rejected stronger self-regulation, Fleet Street's preferred way forward.

My understanding is that the actual number of Tory MPs ready to back statutory regulation is close to sixty. Many didn't sign the Eustice/ Zahawi letter because they feared nasty press attention. One MP told me: "If I add my name to the letter the bastards will simply have another go at my family but I'll be there in the lobbies when it matters".

The Telegraph's Chief Reporter, Gordon Rayner, certainly engages in some pretty rough journalism today...

Screen Shot 2012-11-10 at 11.52.46

In a series of playing the man, not the ball we learn that George Eustice was apparently known as George Useless when he was David Cameron's press spokesman... We are reminded of Crispin Blunt's coming out as a gay man... of Caroline Spelman's son's use of banned substances... Gerald Howarth's claim for £123 of patio furniture.

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28 Oct 2012 09:00:59

Are voters more sensible than political journalists? The narrowing opinion polls suggest they might be...

By Tim Montgomerie
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We shouldn't get over-excited but the latest YouGov poll has the Labour lead down to 7%. At this stage in the first Thatcher parliament Michael Foot (yes, Michael Foot) enjoyed leads two or three times bigger than that being built up by Ed Miliband. According to James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday David Cameron is being told by his Downing Street pollster, Andrew Cooper, that the underlying Labour lead is just 6%. Two polls earlier this week seemed to confirm that Labour's lead was certainly not growing. ICM had the Tories behind by 8% and Populus had Labour ahead by just 5%.

The next election is, of course, a long way off and we shouldn't read too much into what current polls mean for the future but they do seem to suggest that voters haven't been moved by the massive and controversial attention that Fleet Street has given to Andrew Mitchell and to George Osborne's train fare upgrade. Perhaps they're more interested in the growing economy, falling waiting lists and reduced inflation? In his Sunday Times column Dominic Lawson raises (£) the possibility that the misery index may now start to improve for the Coalition as unemployment and inflation both subside. David Cameron will hope so.

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20 Oct 2012 08:24:31

The end of Mitchell spells the end for Leveson

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-10-20 at 05.26.19Strictly speaking, it was not the lobby and the media that forced Andrew Mitchell's resignation yesterday.  It was the unprecedented meeting of Wednesday's 1922 Committee, which found itself discussing whether or not he should continue as Chief Whip: the very fact that such a conversation took place at all made his position impossible.  But that meeting's event only took place because the Police Federation had kept the Mitchell story going for the best part of a month.  And the story had been kept going for that period because the lobby and the media made it happen.

They made it happen not only because the Chief Whip was unpopular with some lobby journalists, but because the media (and in particular the Sun, which broke the story) wanted to come out on top.  This is not evidence of anti-Tory bias: it was no less aggressive in the case of Mr Mitchell or of Liam Fox than in the cases of, say, Peter Mandelson or Stephen Byers when New Labour ruled the roost.  Neither is its aggression necessarily a bad thing: on balance, it is better to have a puffed-up media than a cowed one.

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19 Oct 2012 20:00:30

You know the Osborne story that got Westminster wetting itself earlier? It wasn't true.

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Westminster village went crazy this afternoon - yes, even crazier than normal. Tweets from one ITV reporter suggested that the Chancellor was trying to blag his way into a First Class train coach on the Virgin service to London Euston while only holding a standard class ticket. The worst was believed of the Chancellor and accusations of fare dodging, arrogance and cheating were thrown around with reckless abandon. Five Live covered the story at length. BBC correspondents and press reporters rushed to Euston to 'doorstep' the Chancellor as he disembarked.

There was just one problem with the whole story. It wasn't true. Here's a statement just been issued from Virgin trains:

"Rt Hon George Osborne, Chancellor, was travelling on Virgin Trains’ 15:11 Wilmslow to London Euston service this afternoon (19 October).

The Chancellor, who was travelling in First Class accommodation, held a Standard Class ticket. As soon as the train left Wilmslow an aide went to find the Train Manager to explain the situation and arrange to pay for an upgrade. It was agreed that the Chancellor would remain in First Class and an amount of £189.50 was paid by the aide to cover the upgrade for Mr Osborne and his PA.

The situation was dealt with amicably between the Train Manager and George Osborne’s aide. At no time was there a disagreement or a refusal to pay for the upgrade. Nor was there any discussion between the Train Manager and Mr Osborne."

In other words - according to Virgin (and the cynics will obviously disbelieve the Virgin statement) it was a complete non-story but it didn't stop the Westminster Twitterati wetting itself. Pathetic really.

12 Sep 2012 07:37:59

"John Prescott drove a car into a wall, while drunk"

By Tim Montgomerie
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The headline at the top of this blog is untrue. Completely false. If it appeared on a Wikipedia entry I should imagine the former Deputy PM would be very keen to have it removed. The allegation did not, as far as I know, ever appear on Mr Prescott's wikipedia page but it did appear on that of Grant Shapps.

There's been a lot of attacks on Mr Shapps in the newspapers over the last week, all targeting his past use of the internet. The Guardian has ANOTHER go this morning.

I'm not in a position to respond to every allegation that's been made against the new Conservative Chairman but at the root of the controversy has been a long-standing attempt by (1) his political opponents to use Wikipedia to smear him and then (2) those same opponents then attack his attempts to counter those smears.

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30 Aug 2012 08:28:14

Cameroon commentators start attacking the Tory "Right". Are they speaking for Numbers 10 and 11?

By Tim Montgomerie
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As the Government's problems mount I note that some of the commentators most supportive of the Cameron project have been penning defences of the Coalition's economic policies in general and of the Chancellor in particular. Matthew Parris did so on Saturday. In yesterday's London Evening Standard Matt d'Ancona said Tory calls for a "growth strategy" were "more often ritual than rational". In yesterday's Times (£) Danny Finkelstein criticised "the Right" for a lack of discipline - a theme that Rob Leitch addresses today, on our own pages. Two days ago the FT's Janan Ganesh rode to Osborne's defence, attacking the Right for failing to give Mr Osborne more support.

In the fisk below I look at Janan's article and what I think are dangerous criticisms of the Conservative Right (or Conservative Mainstream MPs as I'd prefer to call them). What worries me most is not what commentators say. What I worry about is that Numbers 10 and 11 may share the views that are appearing in the columns of d'Ancona, Finkelstein and Ganesh. Do they really think they've done enough on growth? My own qualified defence of George Osborne's position is based on the view that he has been battling unsuccessfully for more growth measures, albeit belatedly. I'm also concerned that rather than asking themselves some very hard questions about their mismanagement of what is admittedly a difficult-to-manage party, the Tory leadership is blaming their critics for not showing more unquestioning loyalty. The language of some Tory MPs towards the leadership has been unnecessarily violent but (1) a record of appointing mates to Number 10 and the Cabinet, (2) of punishing any kind of critic and (3) running an unorthodox and ultimately unsuccessful election campaign is not the best way you earn loyalty.

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4 Aug 2012 13:14:14

Boris wins Rupert Murdoch's support for *2014* and Michael Howard's forgiveness

By Tim Montgomerie
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Two pieces of news about Borismania.

As I reveal in my column for today's Daily Mail I understand that Rupert Murdoch and Boris Johnson met recently and there was active discussion of a scenario in which David Cameron was replaced as Tory leader in 2014. The clear implication was that Mr Murdoch would throw the weight of The Sun behind Boris Johnson if, if, if he was in position to stand as Tory leader. Boris did not protest. Yesterday the media baron was Boris Johnson's guest at the Olympics. The Mail has a photograph.

I think the chance of Boris becoming Tory leader in this parliament isn't much higher than 20% but contrary to the consensus I think it's more likely in this parliament than after the next election. Boris equals a big gamble. The party will only embrace him if it feels it's in a very bad place. Unless Cameron changes course the next election is going to be very tough to win. After the next election, if the Tories lose, the party will probably choose someone who will deliver a long-term rebuild. If things are looking bad in two years' time, however, there'll be no time for a big strategic shift. The party will need a quick fix and that quick fix could be Boris.

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12 Jun 2012 17:11:20

Impressive performance by Sir John Major at Leveson Inquiry

By Harry Phibbs
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Enoch Powell famously commented that "politicians who complain about the press are like sailors complaining about the sea." That was not the view that Sir John Major gave to the Leveson Inquiry this morning. However, Sir John did acknowledge that as Prime Minister he had been "too sensitive" towards personal criticism.

He said:

"I was much too sensitive from time to time about what the press wrote. God knows in retrospect why I was, but I was.

"I think you can explain that in human terms. If you pick up the papers each day and read a caricature of what you believe you are doing and what you believe you are then I suppose it's a basic human emotion to get a bit ratty about it."

Confident and lucid Sir John willing answered all the questions about the past. Yet he was clearly animated by what practical remedies could be offered for current difficulties.

Sir John paid lip service to "press freedom" but, understandbly perhaps, he did not really seem all that keen. He added "that must not be a licence for the press to do whatever it wishes." He gave an example of how a photograph had misleadingly presented him as dropping litter and how there should be a remedy for that. But surely there is already.  Does it not constitute libel for such a false allegation to made?

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