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Leveson at the crossroads

Ed Miliband promised in November that, if the Government hadn’t given their blessing to the broad range of Leveson’s proposals and in particular the need for statutoryunderpinning, he would force a vote in the Commons by 31 January which with the support of the LibDems he might be expected to win.

He didn’t because he preferred, even if that took longer, to try to reach inter-party agreement. However, any initial momentum there might have been towards that seems to have dissipated. Another meeting was held today between the three party leaders without any apparent sign of progress. The process seems to be drifting.

It is stuck between the Leveson supporters (Labour and most of the LibDems) and the Cameroons desperately clinging to the Letwin wheeze of a Royal Charter designed to highlight the Tories as the champions of press freedom. There is however one group who have not been consulted and have been left out of all the calculations: the victims.

The aim of the Tory proposal – to use a Royal Charter to establish a panel to kitemark the activities of an independent regulator – was by any means possible to circumvent the ‘statutory’ component of Leveson. One must instantly be suspicious of this idea when it was supported by the Daily Mail and the Times.

But a more substantive reason for rejecting it is that Miliband and Clegg, plus quite a lot of Tories, don’t want a Royal Charter which could be altered by Ministers in the future. If one had a Royal Charter at all, it should be underpinned by a statutory clause requiring at least a two-thirds majority in Parliament before any changes could be made to the charter. But in that case, instead of the unnecessary rigmarole of an intervening device, it would be better to stick with Leveson’s own simpler original proposals.

In this deadlock it is essential that the voice of the victims and their families should be heard loud and clear. Any proposal that did not carry their imprimatur would be dead in the water. And they have made it very apparent that they want the Leveson proposals accepted, if not in full, then certainly on all the main essentials.

That includes statutory underpinning. Of course Dacre and Murdoch would kick up a huge fuss. But after all the abuses of the past they, like the bankers, are in no position to resist. As to the canard of press freedom, who are they to proclaim this when the press (except the Guardian and Observer) is owned by rich tycoons who use their newspapers, sometimes flagrantly, to propagandize their own prejudices and reinforce their own self-interest? The press is not free: it is the plaything of the rich and powerful.

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