Yesterday Nick Clegg tells his MPs not to support Jeremy Hunt in a Commons vote. Today the Deputy Prime Minister appears at the Leveson Inquiry. I suspect there may be a link, and I hope his distancing from David Cameron does not end there.
Mr Clegg will have been thinking about how to deal with questions from the Inquiry. He will have imagined he would be asked for his views on the handling of Vince Cable’s removal from the BSkyB brief, his replacement with Jeremy Hunt, and all that has followed, including Cameron’s immediate ‘clearing’ of the Culture Secretary after he had been before Leveson.
Put to one side the fact that Leveson had said his could not be the forum for this decision. Instead imagine QC Robert Jay asking Mr Clegg if the PM discussed this announcement with him. The answer would have to be No. Then he would have been asked what he would have said had he been consulted. The answer would be that he did not think this should have been rushed out like that, and there should have been more measured discussion. So not for the first time, Mr Cameron has made a sudden tactical move without thought for the potential strategic consequences.
Mr Clegg has gone through a fair few hoops, and endured considerable political heat, to keep the coalition together. But he is not best helped when he is cut out of the loop like this. He would have looked a complete fool if he had gone along to Leveson, said ‘well yes, I was not consulted and perhaps that was because The PM knew what I thought, but never mind, I will vote as instructed anyway.’
I hope he uses his appearance today further to establish his independence. It is clear from the evidence of Michael Gove and George Osborne that the strategy of the Tory part of the coalition is to try to avoid anything much beyond a revamped Press Complaints Commission emerging from Leveson. Clegg has to show that he sides much more with the view of three former Prime Ministers and others that that would be totally unacceptable.
Ed Miliband yesterday indicated he would support David Cameron if Leveson brought forward reasonable plans for change to the way the press is regulated, and sought to implement them. Mr Clegg could go a little further – and say he won’t support him if he tries to follow the Gove-Osborne path on this.