UK Politics

Analysis: Cross-party agreement on Leveson unlikely?

David Cameron
Image caption David Cameron is facing pressure from all sides over Leveson

Lord Justice Leveson ended his statement on the future regulation of the British press by declaring the ball was now back in the politicians' court.

An hour later the prime minister set about trying to whack one of the judge's key proposals out of the game altogether, only to meet fierce opposition not just from Labour, but also from his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and some in his own team.

Leveson's hopes of cross-party agreement on his proposals seem unlikely to be fulfilled.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband met for talks on Thursday evening, but there are profound differences which will be difficult to overcome.

The key disagreement is over Leveson's recommendation for legislation to reinforce a new regulator for the press.

David Cameron made it clear he has serious misgivings over both the principle and the practicalities of this.

"We would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land," he warned in a Commons statement, adding that this would endanger free speech and a free press.

Phone hacking

The prime minister's practical concern is that once a new law exists, it could be used as the basis for still more new rules and obligations.

His Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg then laid bare the depth of the divisions within the coalition by making his own separate statement to the Commons.

Mr Clegg said changing the law was the only way to ensure a new regulator was independent for good. He accepted Lord Justice Leveson's argument that legislation was needed to ensure a system which covered all of the press.

Ed Miliband sided with Mr Clegg, endorsing the principles of the Leveson report and supporting the plan for the role and criteria of a new regulator to be set out in statute.

Some Conservatives also believe there is a strong case for new laws, although the prime minister did win support from key figures including John Whittingdale, chairman of the culture and media select committee, which played a pivotal role in the phone hacking saga.

It's clear that David Cameron was hugely relieved at some of the other important conclusions in Leveson's report - that there was no deal between his government and News International and no attempt by the former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to rig the bid for BskyB.

Political battle

He called on Labour to admit that some of their accusations were wrong.

The immediate challenge for the prime minister is the political battle - it is hard to see how the three party leaders can resolve their differences over new laws.

Mr Miliband has said he wants a vote by the end of January.

As things stand the odds appear stacked against Mr Cameron who could be defeated by the combined forces of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and some Conservative MPs.

He is also up against the victims of press intrusion and celebrity campaigners who want tough new measures to rein in the newspapers.

The press will undoubtedly welcome the prime minister's stance, but that may not sway public opinion.

His biggest danger is that voters will believe he has failed victims such as the family of Millie Dowler and failed to stand up to his friends in the media.

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