In Lord Leveson’s introduction to his report, in the very first paragraph, he states that his work ‘carries with it authority provided personally by the Prime Minister.’ He must have been a little shocked when the PM withdrew that authority as soon as he spoke in the Commons, when he rejected the main proposals for regulation.
Also in the introduction, I was impressed by the words of John Major with which Lord Leveson chose to close this initial chapter.
‘I have no idea what this Inquiry will recommend,’ said the last Tory actually to win a general election, ‘but if it makes recommendations that require action, then I think it is infinitely more likely that that action will be carried into legislation if it has the support of the major parties. If it does not, if one party breaks off and decides it’s going to seek future favour with powerful proprietors and press barons by opposing it, then it will be very difficult for it to be carried into law, and I think that is something that is very important.
‘So I think there is an especial responsibility on the leaders of the three major parties. 20-odd years ago – 23 years ago, I think – a senior minister said the press were drinking in the last-chance saloon. I think on this occasion it’s the politicians who are in the last-chance saloon. If, at the end of this Inquiry, with the recommendations that may be made – and I don’t seek to forecast what they may be, but if the recommendations that are made are not enacted and nothing is done, it is difficult to see how this matter could be returned to in any reasonable period of time, and those parts of the press which have behaved badly will continue to behave badly and put at a disadvantage those parts of the press that do not behave badly.
‘I reiterate: I think the underlying purpose is to eliminate the bad behaviour and bring the bad up to the level of the good, and the bad is just a cancer in the journalistic body. It isn’t the journalistic body as a whole. And I think in the interests of the best form of journalism, it is important that whatever is recommended is taken seriously by Parliament, and it is infinitely more likely to be enacted if neither of the major parties decides to play partisan short-term party politics with it by seeking to court the favour of an important media baron who may not like what is proposed.’
Major was absolutely right, and Cameron totally wrong to go down the route his predecessor warned against.