While the attention of the Fourth Estate was elsewhere yesterday, Young Dave appeared before the Commons liaison committee, and among the subjects on which he was questioned was press regulation. Given the delay in getting the Royal Charter before the Privy Council, and the moves by some newspapers to set up their own “new” regulator, the questions were inevitable.
And the answers will not make good reading for the victims of press intrusion and other less than totally ethical behaviour, as Cameron showed signs of wobbling, suggesting that, if it was left solely to the Tory Party, there would be a move to compromise with the press. Added to any surprise at reading that might be the fact that the press has not picked up on the comments today.
Cameron started off by confirming that he supported the Royal Charter agreed by the three major Westminster parties. Then he started to back-pedal: he was disappointed that the press had acted as they had, and hoped that everyone would “see sense”. But then it was back to affirming that the Government was “nearly there”. So he was referring to the cross-party Charter, yes?
Maybe not: “Cameron says the charter the Tories wanted was somewhere between the government one and the newspaper industry one. ‘So I'm not really the problem here’”. And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. If the Tories wanted some other kind of Royal Charter, why did they pass the cross-party one when it came to a vote in the House of Commons?
And if they were happy at the time – hence passing the cross-party Charter – what has happened since to change their minds? Might this have something to do with a General Election being less than two years away, and the Tories seeing an opportunity to curry favour with the Fourth Estate in exchange for an easier ride in the run-up to the poll? Cynical, moi? [Yes-Ed.]
The rest of Cameron’s responses on the subject will hardly inspire confidence chez Jefferies, McCann, Dowler et al: “He is still committed to the cross-party charter. But he wants the industry to support it”. That sounds like compromise. “He expects the government's charter to be adopted. The press have said they will not support this. He cannot see a way forward. But there may be a way forward, he says”. Ditto.
It’s no use Cameron vacillating now, though. Any half-competent politician would have thought this through before he started the hare running by setting up the Leveson Inquiry. One wonders what spinmeister supreme Alastair Campbell makes of it all: it is interesting to note that Cameron lost the services of Andy Coulson in January 2011, so he was long gone when Dave appointed Leveson.
The Prime Minister cannot evade this one. He failed to game it from the start.