I can see no circumstances by which this blog can be regulated by the government’s attempt at press regulation

Nik Darlington

So the lacklustre rigmarole of a Royal Charter takes another turn. The House of Lords has been debating whether to exempt small blogs from the new cross-party press regulations.

The Government is considering its own response to the quandary posed by Internet blogs like Guido Fawkes that are based overseas.

It can be argued that a result of the Internet age is faster, better connected, more nimble scrutiny of the holders of power. Politicians and press barons have been in each other’s pockets for decades, and to suppose this is a new phenomenon is naïve.

Yet political bloggers are beholden to no greater power (at least that is what they claim - and most ought to be believed). Unlike newspapers with their failing business model, most bloggers have no paying market of consumers to chase.

How does a Government get to grips with curtailing them in the manner it is attempting to curtail the mainstream press? To murder a phrase, qui regulates ipsos regulatiem?

It can’t. Which is why ministers, shadow ministers and advisers are hurriedly trying to patch up this particular hole (of several) in the new regulations.

For our part, I am not entirely aware yet whether as de facto digital lessees of Tumblr, the Egremont blog falls into the same category as Guido Fawkes - i.e. an offshore concern.

That small print aside, there are no circumstances under which I can see our being subject to this attempt at regulation. Zero funding, zero revenue, and a relatively small but of course highly influential and intelligent band of readers.

So for Egremont at least, it is business as usual.

Lessons to be learned about the police, the press and a wrong politician

Giles Marshall 10.55am

At the time of Andrew Mitchell’s regrettable outburst of temper, I commented on the distinctly dubious behaviour of the police themselves. My concerns were that - once again - police records had allegedly been leaked to newspapers with impunity, and that the Police Federation was engaged in an unedifying witch-hunt against Mr Mitchell. It turns out that the affair may have been rather more sinister.

Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ programme reported that a key witness to the altercation had not in fact been present and was, moreover, a serving police officer rather than an ordinary member of the public.

The fact that this ghost witness’s version of events matched the report contained in the police logs - which was fully leaked to the Daily Telegraph - implies a conspiracy between more than one officer. The Police Federation’s iniquitous involvement, and their partial account of a meeting held between Mr Mitchell and West Midlands police officers, has further added to the sense of conspiracy.

The Met is now conducting its own investigation into what seems a thoroughly sordid affair. It is worth remembering that some of the sympathy for the police came because in the same week two police officers had been shot and killed in Manchester, reminding us of the perilous situation many dedicated policemen and women put themselves in on the public need.

It is also worth remembering that, but for the Manchester tragedy, we might have been a bit more focused on an earlier display of police cover-up and malicious leaking after Hillsborough.

The Police Federation launched an overtly political campaign to discredit a serving Cabinet minister because they disagree with the policies being pursued by that minister’s elected government. The Metropolitan Police failed to investigate why a police log was leaked to two newspapers, even though the Leveson Inquiry had already established an undue cosiness in the relationship between the police force and the press to the detriment of appropriate police confidentiality.

Channel 4’s programme - produced, by the way, in a statutorily regulated broadcast media - has raised serious questions for both the Met and the Police Federation.

If it is true that members of the Diplomatic Protection Squad have engaged in a slanderous conspiracy to remove a Cabinet minister, then heads absolutely must roll.

Mr Mitchell eventually resigned for his outburst, while denying consistently the alleged content of his outburst. He appears to have been a wronged and maligned man. More than one police officer should now be under threat of dismissal, with likely court actions as well, if we are to regain any sense that police integrity might be able to be restored.

As for the Police Federation, its appalling behaviour should render it redundant altogether. But there are questions too for the unregulated print media, who slavishly published the police version of events and gave little credence to Mr Mitchell’s. Not much sense there that a free media is engaging in the fearless investigative reporting that we are so constantly hearing about from bleating editors. Apparently, it takes the regulated broadcast media to do that job.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

Leveson and the Left, or how Ed Miliband got it wrong

Andrew Thorpe-Apps 9.02am

Lord Justice Leveson’s report, published last month, called for a new press regulatory body with “statutory underpinning”.

Lord Leveson’s proposals, if fully implemented, would remove journalists’ protection from the rigours of the Data Protection Act. They would make it near-impossible for the press to expose corruption and wrongdoing. And without a free press, we would never have heard about MPs’ expenses.

Many on the Left argued that David Cameron should follow Lord Leveson’s recommendations to the letter. After all, they exclaimed, what is the point in calling an inquiry, then ignoring its findings?

That argument is flawed. If Parliament’s job were simply to rubber-stamp the opinions of the judiciary, then what use is there in having an elected legislature? All legislative functions may as well be handed over to the chaps in wigs.

Labour’s championing of statutory regulation was nothing to do with moral principles. Nor was it for the protection of ‘ordinary people’. More than anything else, it was about retribution. Many on the Left still blame the Sun for Labour’s 1992 election defeat. The Left wants the press to feel some heat – similar to that which Labour politicians feel when they are under scrutiny. Lord Leveson has provided a golden opportunity.

During the Blair years, Labour cultivated a close relationship with the press. Alastair Campbell developed a close friendship with Rebekah Brooks. Mr Blair frequently met Rupert Murdoch and even became godfather to one of his daughters. The upshot of this was that the press focused on attacking the Conservatives. It was simply not in the Left’s interest to regulate the press.

Yet when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, newspapers switched allegiance. Mr Brown was not a winner. Labour began to get a taste of their own medicine, and the Left’s hatred of the free press boiled to the surface.

So Ed Miliband’s demand that Leveson’s recommendations be implemented ‘in full’ can now be better understood. Mr Miliband could not possibly have read the 2,000-page report from cover to cover, yet his call for full implementation suggested he agreed with every word. In reality, Mr Miliband was pandering to the majority view in his party, something we should be well used to by now.

But the Labour leader then made a U-turn in the form of a draft Bill. Suddenly, Labour was no longer in favour of ‘full implementation’ with Ofcom regulating the press. Were we finally going to hear Miliband’s own views, even if they should conflict with party big-wigs? Not a bit of it.

Labour’s draft Bill, which lacks detail, calls for the Lord Chief Justice to oversee a new regulator called the Press Standards Trust, checking every three years that it is working effectively. Publications that refuse to sign up to the regulator would have higher damages awarded against them should they lose court cases.

The draft Bill, which was discussed in cross-party talks yesterday, represents ‘statutory underpinning’ by stealth. It is a fudge, designed to keep all sides happy, and it speaks volumes of Mr Miliband’s inability to nail his colours to the mast.

The Conservatives want a system of independent self-regulation with severe penalties for wrongdoing but without statutory regulation. David Cameron rightly argues that regulation is a screw that will only get tightened:

"Once you start drafting a law that is a statutory underpinning, you find you have effectively created a Press Bill. It may not have that much which is frightening in it. But it becomes a very easily amendable piece of work, which is why we should try and avoid it."

Labour’s draft Bill does offer a ‘guarantee’ of press freedom, but it is difficult to see how this is feasible with even limited statutory regulation. The press is either free or it isn’t – there is no ‘third way’.

Mr Miliband has blindly followed the Left’s predictable response to the Leveson Report. The press is viewed as a rabid hound that must be tethered. It is of course  Mr Miliband’s prerogative to follow advice and even to change his mind; but it reflects poorly on his leadership. It backs up what we have learnt about Ed – he is a follower, not a leader. He frequently calls for inquiries, and when the results are in, is prepared to support all recommendations without hesitation.

The Left have had the press in their sights for some time. Lord Leveson’s report was labelled a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity long before it was even published. It has exposed the Left’s resentment and fear of a press that is free to scrutinise. It has also shown why Ed Miliband must never be given the keys to Number 10.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @AG_ThorpeApps

Press freedom, or press responsibility? It is time we checked the most powerful organisations in Britain

Giles Marshall 9.50am

Eight-six MPs and peers have signed a letter urging David Cameron not to accept any recommendation for statutory oversight of the press, should such be made by Lord Leveson in his much anticipated report.

In many ways it is encouraging that so many legislators, themselves often the target of press attacks, should be so concerned about what they have termed an issue of free speech. They are right in wanting to steer clear of political control of any media outlet. Yet the issue for the British press is no longer really one of free speech; it is one of responsibility.

The Leveson Inquiry’s exhaustive hearings unearthed example after example of astonishing abuse of press power. This wasn’t simply the willingness of some newspapers to use illegal methods to obtain information; it was also their relentless commitment to the harassment and persecution of those who they decided, often on a whim or on the barest of hard knowledge, to victimise.

Famous examples of non-celebrity figures include the McCanns and Chris Jefferies, but they were hardly the first. There have been many more low-profile examples. The stories of Juliet Shaw and an innocent deputy headmistress, both caught up in the Daily Mail’s tangled web of media ethics, serve as a reminder of just what happens when there isn’t a major inquiry into the conduct of the press.

The Sun managed to identify an innocent man as a paedophile and never produced an apology, so weak is the current system of press regulation. There are plentiful, regular examples of how an out of control press - particularly the tabloids - smear people’s reputations with no requirement to apologise or make restitution when they are proved - as they so often are - wrong. The intrusion of the press into private lives continues unabated. The best observation of press antics comes at the moment from heroic blogs such as Tabloid Watch and The Media Blog, which makes depressing reading.

The MPs who signed the letter today rightly consider that the ability of the press to investigate political and commercial interests without fear or favour should be unhindered. Agreed.

The problem is that it so often doesn’t. It isn’t MPs or political interests who require the defence of a proper system of regulatory control. It is the little people, the small people’s interests, who urgently require this support. The very people MPs should be representing and whose interests they should be considering. It is in some ways astonishing that the eighty-six signatories of today’s letter have been so willing to leap to the defence of powerful, vested media interests, but have remained mute when ordinary people have been victims of press abuse.

Then again, many politicians mix freely with owners, editors and reporters. Mr Cameron’s friendship with Rebekah Brooks; Michael Gove’s past employment with Rupert Murdoch’s Times; Boris Johnson’s present employment with the Barclay twins’ Daily Telegraph; Jeremy Hunt’s cringeworthy emails and texts to a senior aide of the Murdoch corporation - all these relationships betoken an unhealthy danse macabre that wholly fails to protect us from a rampaging, lazy, abusive press.

The Guardian has published a poll finding today suggesting that 79 per cent of the public want a powerful regulatory body to control the press. It would be difficult to find an issue on which there is such variance between our representatives and ourselves.

Preventing the press from publishing untrue statements that irreparably damage people’s lives is not the same - nowhere near - as political control and it is a pity that today’s letter’s signatories don’t realise this.

It was Stanley Baldwin many years ago - using a comparison possibly offered to him by his cousin Rudyard Kipling - who noted that the press “have great power without any responsibility. The prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

Too much of the British media has failed to show even the slightest hint of willingness to regulate themselves. It is time they were subject to the same strictures as every other organisation in this country, for they wield the greatest power, and power should never be allowed to go unchecked.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

Britain does need a banking inquiry

Michael Economou 10.30am

The late historian Ronald Syme wrote, “In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the façade.”

It is difficult to argue that twenty-first century Britain is any different. Recent revelations in public life have begun to unveil a network of power, privilege and wealth that exercises a disturbing control over our country.

Politicians of all parties toady to media moguls and millionaires, trading policies for good stories and donations, while cabals of journalists and bankers abuse the system for profit.

The twisted mask concealing this state of affairs has developed cracks, through which we have glimpsed the true face of institutionalised corruption and an esurient elite. Cash for honours, the parliamentary expenses scandal, phone hacking, endless tax avoidance tales, and now the scandal of rate fixing among our major banks - these are all symptoms of the same disease, an economic and political culture built on cronyism and deceit.

The solution has never been reactionary leftism, anarcho-capitalism or any other sinister ideology pedalled by fringe politicians. The cure is sustained, old-fashioned One Nation conservatism that genuinely tries to end the frightening gap between the rulers and the ruled.

The Government should embrace calls from across the political spectrum for an inquiry into the British banking industry. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has argued against such a step on the grounds that “there must be many people who work in banking today who know that they are honest, hard-working and feel they have been let down by some of their colleagues and indeed their leaders.”

But this is precisely why we need an inquiry. The actions of a few rotten bankers are destroying the reputation of an entire industry. Just this year, banks have been attacked for mis-selling PPI, fixing Libor rates, and mis-selling interest rate swaps to small businesses. It is unlikely to end there.

What should we expect from a banking inquiry? Hopefully enough information for the Government to carry out the sensible reforms needed, rather than the futile and punitive tax rises that the Tories and the Labour party have used to get one over each other, and which act merely as punishment rather than rehabilitation.

Moreover, fish rot from the head down. If we don’t insist on better leadership from those at the top, then Britain shall sink under its own cynicism and disillusionment. Of course, a banking inquiry would only be a relatively small step, but it is necessary for us to fix thoroughly the banking system, build a new conservative consensus, and make sure that the British people don’t turn in their (entirely justified) revulsion to the sort of political movements that can only make things worse. It is time to smoke out the rats and put our economy in order.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelEconomou

Big game week on Lord Justice Leveson’s savannah

Nik Darlington 9.28am

The Leveson sideshow is on its way out of town after a stage run of more than 6 months. The press, to varying extents, has afforded the inquiry an importance it probably does not deserve, which is odd considering Lord Justice Leveson’s quarry is the press itself.

This week is ‘big game’ week, when the elephants, rhinos and other titans of the animal kingdom sit in the cross-hairs of the wooden inquisitor, Robert Jay QC.

Yesterday brought a rare sight indeed. Pine martens are seen in public more often these days than Gordon Brown, hidden away as they are in their Scottish refuge. I can drag this analogy further still. Pine martens are said to be reducing Britain’s population of invasive grey squirrels. The Murdochs are not grey squirrels, but for many they have an invasive characteristic; and Mr Brown grumbled into the hearing yesterday with one thing in mind, to eradicate the miserable memory of the Murdoch press.

I have enormous sympathy with Mr Brown for the coverage of his son’s cystic fibrosis. It was a reprehensible and unprofessional act by the NHS worker(s) who passed on the sensitive information to the Sun. And it was a despicable editorial decision by Rebekah Brooks’ to publish the story. On the front page. We have no reason to disbelieve Mr Brown’s assertion that he and his wife were presented with little more than a fait accompli by the Sun's editor.

But an innocent bystander in the vicious briefing wars that beset Tony Blair’s premiership and his? Gordon Brown is pulling a fast one of the highest order.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, also appeared yesterday, with an air of such relaxed insouciance to be bordering on blasé. The only moments of uneasiness centred on questions to do with his relationship with Andrew Coulson, whom Mr Osborne had a big hand in hiring, though even then he was let off lightly.

Today we have an appearance from the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, who I’m sure shall enlighten Lord Leveson with his sycophantic tailcoat trailing at smug News International cocktail parties.

We will also be hearing from another, greatly more respected, former prime minister, Sir John Major. If Gordon Brown is the leopard that never changes his spots (he might look like a grey elephant these days, but on yesterday’s evidence his memory is not up to a pachyderm’s exacting standards), then Sir John is the august old lion, long retired but still surveying the field.

You don’t have to be much in the know to know that Sir John Major has some very strong views about the role of the press. Who wouldn’t after the treatment unfairly dealt to him during the 1990s? It is unlikely to add anything of material note to the Leveson Inquiry’s proceedings - more colour than censure - but it could be one of the more fascinating sessions of one of the more miserable political inquiries.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Across the opinion pages: the Master, technical schools, open spaces and prisoners

Nik Darlington 2.15pm

The Times (£) has a brilliant range of comment pieces published today, worth venturing behind the paywall to read. Opinion genuinely is one of the newspaper’s USPs, along with its beautiful and accessible multi-platform digital interface.

Tuesdays typically mean Rachel Sylvester’s unmissable column, and today she plays on a favourite theme, ‘the Master’. Often enough she has commented how Conservative party modernisers afford Tony Blair deified status, his autobiography a fixture of Tory bedside tables and playbook for the contemporary political scene. This week, however, it’s all about how everyone’s wrongly reading the Blairite tea leaves, including Ed Miliband.

The truth is that Mr Blair was authentically of the centre in a way that neither Mr Cameron nor Mr Miliband is. He was an entryist who had taken control of his party, whereas the current Tory and Labour leaders are both, in background and beliefs, far more of their tribes. The success of new Labour was based on turning this reality into a political strategy that was pursued with ruthless efficiency and consistency. Everything that Mr Blair did and said - to begin with at least - was dedicated to demonstrating that he was more at home on the middle ground than in the Labour comfort zone…

Mr Blair took office promising new Labour would be the “servants of the people”. He lost power when the perception took hold that he wanted to be a Master of the Universe and his MPs turned on him. Neither Mr Cameron nor Mr Miliband have yet shown whether they are the servants of the people or their parties.

Rough reading for both leaders, who feel the weight of the former prime minister on their shoulders in more ways than one. And a reminder, yesterday, of Mr Blair’s uncommon talents.

Meanwhile, Lord Baker, an honorary life member of the TRG, writes about “a new wave of university technical colleges”. The Government is nearly doubling the number of these colleges, which supported by universities provide technical training to pupils between 14 and 19-years-old. Britain’s school leavers need more technical nous to compete in a challenging global marketplace.

We had a few technical schools at the end of the war but these were killed off by English snobbery. Everyone wanted to go the grammar school on the hill, not the one in the town with dirty jobs and oily rags. Germany didn’t make the same mistake: they adopted and still have the 1944 English education system and it is one of the reasons why Angela Merkel is ruling the roost. These colleges are our chance to rectify that mistake.

Under the Labour government Lord Baker, a former Education Secretary himself, convinced Andrew Adonis to trial two of these UTCs. Their expansion was supported by the Conservative party at the last general election, a pledge that has been wholeheartedly fulfilled by the coalition government.

The outgoing Director-General of the National Trust, Dame Fiona Reynolds, eulogises on the centenary of Octavia Hill’s death. With a theme that I also used in an article earlier this year for the Richmond Magazine, Dame Fiona writes that the protection of open green spaces is a battle still being waged, and one still very much worth waging.

When [Octavia Hill] died in 1912, the National Trust had 713 members. We now have four million. While she would no doubt be impressed, she would not be surprised, and she would certainly not be complacent. She believed, as we do, that beauty, nature and heritage are fundamental to the human condition. She spoke of everlasting delight. If she were here now, she would describe the past hundred years of the Trust and what we stand for as one of enduring relevance; a cause which we must never cease to pursue.

Finally, the experienced barrister and chairman of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, writes that Britain should give in to the European Court’s ruling to award the vote to prisoners.

Far from being harmless, giving prisoners the unqualified right to vote has positive values. How better to promote peaceful coexistence in society than to remove any sense in prisoners of second-class citizenship. It is precisely what the Government is preaching in its recent legislation on sentencing reform - namely, greater efforts to make the rehabilitation of prisoners more vigorous in penal institutions.

The right of every citizen to vote is acknowledged to be a constitutional right. It is in truth not a human right but it certainly is a civil liberty guaranteed by Article 3 of Protocol No 1 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom, which the UK ratified as long ago as 1952.

Egremont has long been favourable to the Government’s principled and correct stance on penal reform, and last year we published an excellent article by the Howard League’s Sophie Willett. The ‘bang them up and lock away the key’ school of justice is outmoded and discredited; Britain’s prisons are at bursting point. That much is true.

However, the right to vote is not God-given, as Sir Louis agrees. Nor should it be beholden on any sovereign government to afford certain constitutional rights to individuals who transgress this country’s laws and bring harm to fellow citizens.

Reform the nature of a criminal’s penance, certainly; but that penance must still be served.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

PMQs review: A muttering idiot of a draw

Jack Blackburn 3.45pm

The last Prime Minister’s Questions for three weeks before a joint Jubilee and Whitsun recess was a distinctly bizarre scoreless draw.

It didn’t so much resemble the two most senior politicians in the land debating matters of policy, as it did two angry siblings who simply weren’t listening to each other. Oh, and there was an irritating cousin thrown into the mix.

Edward Miliband’s tactic today was divide and rule. It is one we can expect to see more of over the coming months. Seeking to exploit the evident antagonism between the Business Secretary and Adrian Beecroft, author of this week’s controversial report on employment reform, the Leader of the Opposition set about asking where the Prime Minister stood.

This strategy is brazen but flawed, not least because all the front bench Lib Dems were strangely absent, thereby not allowing for television shots of awkward Lib Dems.

However, Mr Cameron avoided fulsomely embracing the report, suggesting that some recommendations would be taken and others would not, before the major exchange descended into an unstructured melee.

Edward tried to score points on, well, just about anything: Hunt, Coulson, growth, tax cuts for millionaires -  they were all there, culminating in his claim that “the nasty party is back”. Dave started banging on about the trade unions influence on Labour policy. All of the questions and the answers seem to have been decided quite some time before the session. It was a total damp squib.

The meat of the session actually took place after the Leader of the Opposition had sat down. The Prime Minister was asked about the ECHR’s ruling on voting rights for prisoners. The Prime Minister said he would stand for the sovereignty of Parliament and his belief that going to prison meant you lost certain rights, including the right to vote. This is a story that shall keep on rolling.

However, the headlines were stolen by that irritating cousin, namely Ed Balls. He repeatedly asked the Prime Minister how many glasses of wine he’d had, and needled the Flashman in Dave, as is his desire. Finally, by now having “we’re in recession” chanted at him by Mr Balls, Dave could take no more and Flashman flipped. He described the Shadow Chancellor as a “muttering idiot”, causing uproar in the chamber.

Succumbing to goading as such an easy thing to do. It is also easy to wind someone up. However, both these important public figures should not be doing it. Mr Cameron was forced to withdraw his “unparliamenatry” comment. Mr Balls is not subject to sanction. Speaker Bercow, of the pseudo-Headmasterly air, should perhaps get in touch with that instinct now, because these two schoolboys could use some discipline.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA