The extraordinary political drama surrounding the publication of the Leveson Report yesterday leaves me with something of a dilemma.
On the one hand, I want to commend David Cameron for making a principled stand for free expression in Parliament yesterday. This Prime Minister seems hostile to the Human Rights Act, so his words on the importance of free speech are noteworthy:
The issue of principle is that, for the first time, we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before crossing that line.
Cameron also said he was “instinctively concerned” about changing the rules on Data Protection and journalistic sources (Hansard link ), which, from a free expression point of view, is also a welcome attitude. Some might argue that these are platitudes, but they are on record in Parliament and there is no reason why free speech campaigners should not trumpet these comments.
However, these statements are tempered by the concern that, in appearing to reject Lord Justice Leveson’s key recommendation, it seems as if the Prime Minister is undermining the Inquiry he himself set up. This is likely to further alienate people from parliamentary politics. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are right to ask what the point of the Inquiry actually was, if the central conclusion is summarily dismissed. In taking an early position against ‘statutory underpinning’, Cameron has aligned himself with the newspapers, rightly or wrongly symbolised by the hated Murdochs.
The Prime Minister has also placed himself in opposition to the McCanns, the Dowlers, and Hugh Grant, which politically speaking seems an incredibly risky manoevre. It is so counter-intuitive to the project of re-election that I am persuaded that he has indeed taken the position on a matter of principle.
I am no fan of David Cameron’s policies, and usually enjoy watching his poll numbers fall. But I worry about a situation in which a Prime Minister loses public support because he makes statements in favour of free expression.