Leveson Inquiry could become one of David Cameron's greatest regrets

 

When David Cameron comes to write his memoirs about his spell in office, he may well cite the establishment of the Leveson Report as one of his greatest regrets.

It seemed the wisest course of action to take in the aftermath of the furore over the hacking of Milly Dowler’s mobile phone and the closure of the News of the World.

The inquiry hearings caused the Prime Minister grave embarrassment as his cosy relationship with News International’s senior figures was laid bare – and almost cost Jeremy Hunt his job as Culture Secretary.

Some 18 months later, the Leveson Report’s publication leaves him with one of the worst headaches of his premiership to date.

Whichever course of action he takes today, he runs the risk of upsetting someone – and if he tries to compromise, there is the danger of upsetting almost everyone.

Mr Cameron yesterday made clear the “status quo” over press standards was no longer acceptable, but – like the majority of the Conservatives – he is instinctively wary of imposing regulation on the press.

Cabinet members Michael Gove, William Hague and Eric Pickles – along with the London Mayor Boris Johnson – have come out firmly against any regulation underpinned by statute. They are being strongly and noisily supported by much of the press.

Proceed down that road and Mr Cameron will run into hostility from much of the Cabinet, probably a majority of Tory MPs, a minority of Labour MPs (including David Blunkett) and many newspaper editors.

However, if he takes any step that is perceived to give one final, final chance to the press, he could find the majority of the Commons ranged against him - with some form of regulation backed by Ed Miliband and most Labour MPs, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats and several dozen Tory MPs.

The issue is already splitting the Coalition, with Mr Clegg taking the extraordinary decision to speak separately on the subject this afternoon.

Even worse for Mr Cameron, there is the potential for his response to be attacked by the Dowlers and Gerry and Kate McCann – the very sort of people that the Leveson was set up to protect in the future.

It is little wonder that Downing Street officials are said to refer to the Leveson Inquiry as “this monster we have created”.

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