If we can't rely on the Lib Dems to support a free press then heaven help us

15 Mar 2013 at 10:05

Where politicians tend to go off the rails is when they start playing politics. If it wasn’t so serious I would be quivering with mad hysterical laughter at the latest Leveson Whitehall farce.

Let me set the scene. Guy Black, David Hunt and Michael Macmanus have achieved the almost impossible task of persuading the proprietors of Her Majesty’s press to submit themselves to a system of regulation which can impose eye watering fines, retractions and a range of measures that should stop the disgusting practices that shocked the nation. And trying to persuade proprietors to agree to anything is not unlike herding cats away from a fishmongers.

So what is on the table is a self regulatory body backed by Royal Charter but not underpinned by statute. So it was up to the party leaders to reach a deal to put before Parliament. Cameron has pulled out and will force a vote on Monday simply because Milliband and Clegg are hell bent on statutory regulation.

I find this very confusing. They are perfectly happy to mouth the usual platitudes about the need for a strong yet responsible press, and delighted to wax lyrical about the democratic importance of a free and fearless press, yet want Parliament to stick its grubby little paws into the cess pit. There is even wild and rather scary talk of licensing the press. And in the Lords the usual suspects are dangling amendments onto as many bills as they can to achieve this rather sinister aim. Mr. Putin would be proud of them.

It really is not worth me making the case for why Parliament, ministers and civil servants should have absolutely no role to play in press regulation and why the proprietors should be locked out, because it is such a no brainer. But not to Miliband and Cleggy. What really made me howl at the breakfast table and shriek to be catheterised was when I learned that Ed couldn’t support Cameron because Hugh Grant had been on the phone giving dire warnings of a strongly worded press release. How utterly terrifying. What next, the comfy chairs? A conker duel in Parliament Square? The poor fellow must have been quaking in his boots.

Where Miliband’s problem lies that he has been too much in the pockets of HACKED OFF who have been driving Labour policy on press regulation. And he has made a great play of railing against vested interests. With the exception of the trade unions and HACKED OFF, of course.

With the notable exception of the Mc Canns and the Dowlers who were treated utterly despicably, the figureheads of HACKED OFF are those who have been done over by the press and are out for revenge. I have nothing against Hugh Grant, he is a perfectly adequate actor whose films I rather enjoy. If he choses to swap body fluids with a black tranny in the privacy of his home that must be a matter for them alone. But should he chose to do so in the back of a car in a public place; well, he is going to catch more than a cold. And the other great notables are Ryan (super injunction) Giggs and that great pillar of moral rectitude, The Lord Prescott. What a crew.

But what I find really hard to fathom is Nick Clegg’s position. If the Lib Dems can’t be seen to be the champions of a free press heaven help us. I really am surprised at Cleggy as he has shown himself to be a rather ballsy DPM. He is going to have to think long and hard about his party’s position over the weekend because the real problem is that this hoo ha could destabilise the Coalition. That is why the Tory Taliban are considering rebelling. Think of their logic. Clegg and Cameron at loggerheads, the vote is lost. Cameron humiliated ( I can hear the barbed whispers of “his power is ebbing away” already). An election. Labour wins. A new Tory leader who believes in the absolute purity of his tribe, which now meets in the back of a ford Transit (white, of course) somewhere in estuary Essex.

It is of course quite, quite, insane. I have always wondered why No Turning Back got its name. Probably from the cliff edge that they are all hurtling towards.