Call on Cameron to implement Leveson

Leveson reportSo the Leveson Report was released (all 2,000 pages of it), and as I predicted the press has gone feral. Even more so. I’m not going to bother listing all the ways that it has been claimed that Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals will result in the apocalypse, but you’ve all seen them.

The thing which strikes me is just how unrepentant the printed press, as an industry, are. We have just had a lengthy — and expensive — investigation into how newspapers broke the law and trampled over the privacy of celebrities and victims of tragedy alike, and then abused their considerable power over politicians and the police. All of this whilst an entirely voluntary system of self-regulation was in place and powerless to do anything.

A statute backing a new regulator does not amount to politicians controlling the press. What it does do is give the regulator power to investigate press wrongdoing, and to hand out punishments which the papers have no choice but to accept. It means that newspaper editors and owners cannot ignore judgements.

Now you see why those papers are feeling nervous. You can also see why their arguments against Leveson are nonsense.

A free press is undeniably essential to a free and fair society. Nobody is claiming otherwise. But that press cannot be allowed unfettered power with such potential to be abused.

Which isn’t to say that Leveson’s Report is perfect. Guido Fawkes is right (and that one is going to haunt me for a long time) that it  focuses far too little on (ignores) social media and the internet. But as his proposals stand, they represent an absolute minimum of what has to happen to ensure that we aren’t facing another scandal and inquiry in ten to twenty years time, and to ensure that we retain a free, responsible and trusted press.

To that end, I’ve started an e-petition. I gather it’s the done thing in such circumstances. The petition I’ve laid out, on the government e-petition website, is as follows:

We call upon the government to implement, in full, the recommendations of Leveson LJ following his inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

Over the last 70 years the printed press has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated that it is incapable of adequately regulating itself. A free press is a just and essential requirement of a democratic society, but the power that the press wields cannot be allowed to be abused to serve the powerful and privileged.

The broadcast media has long been governed by the statute-backed Ofcom, without its independence and effectiveness being compromised. We regret* the suggestion that such a regulator would weaken the printed press.

*(Yes, that is a typo. I meant “reject” not “regret”.)

This isn’t a petition backed by any group, by Hacked Off or any political party. This is just me. Gobsmacked at the continued arrogance of some elements of the press. No other industry is trusted to police itself, and the press has proved that it cannot adequately do that. As Leveson correctly said, the press has been “marking its own homework”.

If you agree, please sign the petition. It’s unlikely to reach the 100,000 signature threshold any time soon, but it’s a show of feeling. And its a way of showing the government that the press must be held to account.

David Cameron: Schoolboy Prime Minister

One of the criticisms most frequently levelled at David Cameron and the little cabal of ministers he surrounds himself with is that the overwhelming majority are from wealthy, public school backgrounds. I’m not sure that this is a real issue with the Conservative frontbench — though the decisions that they have made in office, favouring people of their own circumstances far above the vulnerable and needy definitely are.

But as the ideological wheels have been falling off the Cameroon bandwagon on a seemingly daily basis, what strikes me as most alarming is that the politicians running Britain seem to act like they are still a gang of over-privileged schoolboys.

It’s been something I’ve thought for a long time. The crowded House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions on a Wednesday afternoon has something of an air of a rowdy classroom, and the braying MPs certainly don’t help the overall image.

But looking at the actions of government ministers, and it seems that in their own heads they’ve never actually left school. Andrew Mitchell, swearing like a yob at the police. George Osborne, sitting in first class without a ticket and thinking he should get away with it because he’s head boy.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, when Chris Bryant asked about texts and emails David Cameron had refused to release to the Leveson Inquiry, we were treated to this bizarre display:

Which basically amounts to David Cameron saying:

I’m not answering his question because he’s mean to me!

Mental. Leaving aside that Bryant had apologised to the House, and what Cameron was looking for was some extra grovelling  to him personally, there’s something very distasteful about someone holding high public office flat-out refusing to answer a question from an elected representative simply because he doesn’t like him.

And not only that, but yesterday I saw this story on BBC News:

A man who shouted ‘no public sector cuts’ at David Cameron during a speech in Glasgow has been ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service.

He shouted at the Prime Minister. He shouted at him, and he got 100 hours of community service. I expect there are a lot of MPs feeling very worried at the moment, in case David Cameron should run to teacher with the refrain “He shouted at me!” and point at them.

Honestly, this is absurd. Our government is made up of schoolboys. And not the competent, high-achieving “gifted and talented” students. No, this lot have already proved themselves incompetent.

I’m afraid, people of Britain, we’re being governed by the Inbetweeners.

Falling on Your Sword

"You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords." (Serenity, 2005)

Joss Whedon’s Serenity is one of my favourite films. It’s fun, exciting and smart. In it, there’s a certain scene where the bad guy confronts the director of a facility from which a “patient” has escaped, and delivers this telling little line:

You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords.

It’s that line that occurs to me today, as political disaster after disaster explodes, rocking the ship of government to the point of capsizing. Politicians desperately scramble for excuses, for any scapegoat that will save their skins from the situations they have put themselves in.

Look to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt was well and truly “dropped in it” yesterday by James Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry. Hunt, it seems, was leaking information to News International and helping get their bid to take over Sky approved- a bid that he was adjudicating on.

What is Hunt’s response? He’s forced out his special advisor, trying to create a scapegoat despite the fact that the ministerial code clearly says that it is Hunt himself who bears responsibility.

Another example: today saw the announcement of the growth figures for the first quarter of 2012. They were terrible. So terrible, in fact, that we are now technically back in recession. This is a double dip that George Osborne assured us all that we would not suffer, and that anyone saying we would was wrong and profoundly irresponsible.

What was Osborne’s response? A lot of fluff about how it’s down to the Eurozone. When Labour left office the economy was recovering. Conservative economic policy started to turn that recovery into another downturn before the impact of the Eurozone could reasonably be blamed.

Both men have failed in their duties. Both have tried to deflect blame and responsibilty to save themselves and their positions. The scrabbling around to look for excuses is utterly undignified.

I’m not saying that previous administrations have been innocent of this same political grubbery, because they haven’t. It’s not just down to these particular individuals, but rather a malaise that has infected our political sphere as a whole, from top to bottom.

Look, for example, more locally to Wokingham. In the light of the disastrous new rubbish scheme the Conservative administration: firstly went into hiding; secondly came out fighting trying to smear anyone who criticised them; thirdly blamed anyone else they could think of.

There is a slimy, selfish inability to take responsibility in a dignified and honourable way that has taken hold. The present government seems, in every aspect, to embody this. From Theresa May’s spurious claims about cats, to Jeremy Hunt’s shadowy connections to News International, to the shattering mismanagement of the economy at George Osborne’s hands. If someone of import at least displayed a willingness to fall on their sword in penance for their failures, then there might at least be some confidence in the political system.