When politicians face an impossible dilemma, they set up commissions and await reports. So often, it is a way of procrastinating until a day when passions have subsided and difficult decisions can be avoided.
Unfortunately for David Cameron, it has not worked this time. Lord Leveson’s massive report, three times as long as Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, with its reasonable sounding proposal of independent self-regulation underpinned by legislation, has landed the Prime Minister in a position from which there is no easy exit.
So he tried the old trick of delay through consultation, this time by inviting Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to have private chats with him about the contentious bits of the Leveson report, the bits which – as he put it – would take Parliament across a Rubicon, venturing for the first time ever into the minefield of press legislation. Even those of us who have never illegally intercepted anyone’s conversation would be sorely tempted to bug that upcoming dialogue of the deaf, if only we could.
Ed Miliband is understandably insisting that if legislation is to be introduced at all, it must be done now. In three years, there just might be a Labour government. Labour will not want to take an action opposed by every national newspaper in the land. They want David Cameron to do it. Let him rip his Cabinet apart and ride the rage of what used to be called Fleet Street.
Both leaders paid fulsome tribute to the vulnerable and innocent victims of the press. In Miliband’s case, that means the Dowlers and the McCanns, whereas Mr Cameron’s speech focused on just one victim - the former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. “He has endured a stream of allegations with great dignity!” Mr Cameron exclaimed. It was the one moment when I thought our trade was really in trouble.