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Leveson: Time to stop talking about press regulation and see if it actually works

Improved press regulation is important, but what has been going on for the last few weeks is the tiresome zealotry of the self-righteous

It’s budget week, three years in to an unprecedented coalition government, which is seeking – in an atmosphere of frenziedly conflicting economic guidance – to avert a historically prolonged recession. It is a time for ideas and collaboration, fresh thinking and tough decisions. No surprise, then, that senior political figures were working late into the night on Sunday, engaged in ferocious, vital debate.

Finally, it’s 2.30 in the morning. Some of our finest political minds stretched to breaking point, but remorseless in their drive for a breakthrough: Ed Miliband, the Prime Minister-in-waiting, eager to show his statesmanship; Oliver Letwin, the fixer with the boisterously bouffant hair; Nick Clegg, the man with the demotic touch, the face of early morning radio; and Harriet Harman.  Presiding over it all, in spirit if not in person, is the man on whom the fortunes of our state ultimately rests, the Prime Minister, calling, cajoling, keen for a compromise.

The results now begin to bleed out into the consciousness of the commuters coming in to work. What is it? There has been a breakthrough in how third party complaints to a new press regulator might be framed?  There will be a dab of statute behind a recognition body, authorised by royal charter, but free from Parliamentary interference?  

Stop the press!

Actually, the press care more about this than their readers do. The politicians more than their constituents. Nobody cares more about it than Hugh Grant, the voice of the victims, the chiselled celebrity that has become the face of the pro-regulation campaign (“think of the Dowlers!”, he cries, as the cameras cluster around him).

Of course, improved press regulation is important.  But what has been going on for the last few weeks is the tiresome zealotry of the self-righteous. Newspapers shudderingly warning about Zimbabwe-style censorship; the Labour party and Hacked Off suggesting that Cameron’s royal charter would be a license for renewed phone-hacking.

It is time to stop the shouting. Compromise will be reached. The proposals already on the table will mean clearer powers and mandate for the new Press Complaints Commission, the creation of a standards arm that will be able to investigate newspapers’ processes, and levy fines when they are found to be lacking.   

So we should try to be optimistic: let a new regulator actually start working; allow readers to feel there is proper protection. And let newspapers and politicians go back to their proper jobs: pretending to know the answers to everything, when they are not even really sure of the questions.