Leveson: sustained by Kit Kats, how the parties – and Hacked Off – swallowed their differences and the Sunday night deal was done

 

Political Editor

Oliver Letwin was heavily outnumbered when he entered Ed Miliband’s Westminster office at around 10pm on Sunday night. The Conservatives’ policy chief, wearing garish mustard-coloured corduroy trousers and a sky blue shirt, looked rather crestfallen to be greeted by such a crowd.

The Cabinet Office minister had been scrambled to the Commons at this unusual hour to seal a deal on how newspapers should be regulated, almost four months after the Leveson inquiry reported. Already in the room were Mr Miliband; Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister; Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader; Lord Falconer, Labour’s former Lord Chancellor and  Rosie Winterton, Labour’s chief whip. Also round the table, to Mr Letwin’s apparent surprise, were no fewer than four members of the Hacked Off pressure group which has campaigned for a free and accountable press since the phone hacking scandal — Hugh Tomlinson; Brian Cathcart; and Evan Harris. Aides of  Mr Miliband, Ms Harman and Mr Clegg were also present.

Mr Letwin was offered a sanctuary so he could consult David Cameron by telephone – the use of the waiting room across the corridor used by visitors to the Labour leader’s office.  He did have some company – half a dozen civil servants, who provided factual rather than political advice. The absence of Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, raised Labour eyebrows.  Cameron aides denied reports he was asleep while the deal was done, saying he received his final text message from Mr Letwin at 3.20am and by 6am today was in a conference call with advisers on the Leveson issue.

Four and a half hours after the talks began, at 2.30am today, an agreement was reached among the three political parties and which Hacked Off could also support. Mr Letwin and the civil servants were  fortified by a takeaway pepperoni pizza while Miliband’s team relied on coffee, tea, Kit Kat and chocolate digestive biscuits. “People were scattered in different rooms; it was like a bad party,” said one participant.

Unusually, it was Mr Miliband who in effect chaired the talks. Mr Letwin sat next to him when he arrived. Also on their side of the table were Mr Clegg, Ms Harman and Lord Falconer. The four Hacked Off representatives sat opposite. The mood was amicable, as a deal was in sight. Mr Miliband announced at one point: “I have a piece of good news. Hugh Grant [the actor and Hacked Off campaigner] has left the country. He is on a plane to LA!” Everyone cheered.

Mr Letwin, Mr Cameron’s fixer-in-chief and a key bridge to the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition, is the architect of the device which enables Labour and the Lib Dems to argue that the new regulatory system is being “legally underpinned” as Lord Justice Leveson proposed, while allowing Mr Cameron to claim he had not crossed his self-imposed Rubicon of creating Britain’s first press law in 300 years. The mechanism is a Royal Charter, similar to the one which protects the independence of the BBC.

Hopes of agreement looked remote last Thursday when the Prime Minister, in the words of one insider, “threw his toys out of the pram.” He dramatically broke off the cross-party negotiations and said MPs would have to resolve the issue. Surprisingly, over the weekend Mr Cameron had second thoughts. His aides say this was because the joint proposal tabled by Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg last Friday was based on a Royal Charter rather than a “legislative Leveson”. Cameron aides claimed Labour demanded such a press law in talks earlier last week after being “spooked” by Hacked Off’s intense lobbying  but retreated on Friday. The Prime Minister insists his gambit last Thursday “unblocked the logjam” after “hundreds of hours” of cross-party negotiations on Leveson.

Mr Cameron called Mr Clegg to Number 10 on Sunday afternoon to tell him  he had a new proposal based on a Charter. That was the basis of the agreement. Labour insists the Cameron plan had only nine minor changes from the plan it issued jointly with the Lib Dems on Friday. “The only thing Cameron changed was the type face,” quipped one Labour aide.  Labour dismissed as “ridiculous” the Tory claim that Mr Cameron’s actions forced Labour to drop its demands.

The Liberal Democrat leader, who has always been keen to secure a consensus so any new system would survive a change of government, was happy to take on the role of go-between. He put the revised Cameron plan to the Labour leader on the telephone and the talks were reconvened. Mr Clegg left the Sunday talks before midnight, citing an early morning engagement in Bristol to launch a £2bn package for the aerospace industry, but spoke on the phone to Mr Letwin at 12.30am.

There was another  reason why Mr Cameron changed tack and gave ground.  With Labour,  the Lib Dems and perhaps 20 Tory MPs lined up against him, reports from Tory whips showed he was heading for a bruising Commons defeat tonight if the issue had been put to the vote as originally planned. “Cameron  hoped Clegg would blink but he stood firm, to his credit,”

As all three parties claimed credit for the breakthrough, one Lib Dem insider said: “It was a good outcome but a messy and chaotic way to get there. Cameron didn’t have to have his tantrum and call off the talks. He handed the initiative to Miliband. If we’d have carried on talking, I think we would have ended up with the same result.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn