Having remained silent last month when Culture Secretary Maria Miller said that politicians had done all they could to induce the press into joining a charter-based form of regulation, David Cameron has now warned Britain’s newspapers that they should sign up urgently to the Royal Charter passed by Parliament earlier this year.
Playing a “good cop” PM, Mr Cameron said “a less liberal, enlightened government in the future” might play hard ball and enforce legislation. Translation? Do a deal with the Tories or Labour will bring out the big stick.
Curiously, however, Mr Cameron’s veiled threat only emerged today, despite being issued in an interview he gave before Christmas.
Politicians have been known to conjure up tactics and policies on the back of an envelope. This one – at least according to the editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson, who conducted the interview – was thought up in the back seat of the prime ministerial Jaguar.
The Spectator has become the in-house fanzine of “sacred” unfettered press freedom. But having chatted at length to Mr Cameron a few weeks back, Mr Nelson published the quotes on his blog only today, claiming “there wasn’t enough space” in his magazine’s lavish coverage of its big prime ministerial interview to include a mention of press regulation.
A threat to comply issued by a Prime Minister is a big story. And measured against the ongoing combat between the Hacked Off campaign, who claim the Royal Charter should be legally enforced, and the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) scheme backed by the Mirror, Telegraph and Murdoch press, The Spectator had an old-fashioned scoop on its hands.
But instead we have a tucked-away blog in which Mr Cameron raises the spectre of a heavy-handed Labour administration: “I think I’ve done my bit. But it’s up to you guys now – and, as I say, I think you might be at risk if you don’t do it. Not from me, but from a less liberal, enlightened government in the future. Remember, everyone else wanted to legislate.”