Leader: The false choice on press reform

The underlying principles of this fight have too often been forgotten in a round of score-settling and protection of vested interests.

The British press is having one of its periodic spasms of infighting and navel-gazing – the Telegraph claims the BBC has spent too long on the Daily Mail’s row with Ed Miliband; meanwhile, the Sun’s inaccurate front page about crimes committed by “mental patients” is roundly denounced; two days later, three right-wing papers devote their front pages to the MI5 claim that the Guardian has “helped terrorists” by publishing leaked files from the US National Security Agency.

The backdrop to this outbreak of inky trench warfare is the continuing fight over press reform. Now, the Privy Council has rejected the industry’s plan to be allowed another chance at self-regulation and David Cameron is left hoping that his hastily concocted fudge – a royal charter – will be passed, allowing some measure of statutory underpinning.

The underlying principles of this fight have too often been forgotten in a round of score-settling and protection of vested interests. In March, we said we felt our interests as a political and cultural magazine and website were represented neither by a regulator created by politicians, nor one stuffed with placemen from the right-wing press. (The right-wing press was keen to report our stance on the former, but not the latter, proposition.) Six months later, our position has not changed.

The New Statesman position on the regulation of the press has not changed. Photo: Getty

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Iran vs Israel

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Vince Cable will need something snappier than a graduate tax to escape tuition fees

Perhaps he's placing his hopes in the “Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front.” 

“We took power, and we got crushed,” Tim Farron said in what would turn out to be his final Autumn conference as Liberal Democrat leader, before hastening on to talk about Brexit and the need for a strong opposition.

A year and a snap election later, Vince Cable, the Lib Dem warhorse-turned-leader and the former Coalition business secretary, had plenty of cracks about Brexit.

He called for a second referendum – or what he dubbed a “first referendum on the facts” – and joked that he was “half prepared for a spell in a cell with Supreme Court judges, Gina Miller, Ken Clarke, and the governors of the BBC” for suggesting it".

Lib Dems, he suggested, were the “political adults” in the room, while Labour sat on the fence. Unlike Farron, however, he did not rule out the idea of working with Jeremy Corbyn, and urged "grown ups" in other parties to put aside their differences. “Jeremy – join us in the Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front,” he said. The Lib Dems had been right on Iraq, and would be proved right on Brexit, he added. 

But unlike Farron, Cable revisited his party’s time in power.

“In government, we did a lot of good and we stopped a lot of bad,” he told conference. “Don’t let the Tories tell you that they lifted millions of low-earners out of income tax. We did… But we have paid a very high political price.”

Cable paid the price himself, when he lost his Twickenham seat in 2015, and saw his former Coalition colleague Nick Clegg turfed out of student-heavy Sheffield Hallam. However much the Lib Dems might wish it away, the tuition fees debate is here to stay, aided by some canny Labour manoeuvring, and no amount of opposition to Brexit will hide it.

“There is an elephant in the room,” the newly re-established MP for Twickenham said in his speech. “Debt – specifically student debt.” He defended the policy (he chose to vote for it in 2010, rather than abstain) for making sure universities were properly funded, but added: “Just because the system operates like a tax, we cannot escape the fact it isn’t seen as one.” He is reviewing options for the future, including a graduate tax. But students are unlikely to be cheering for a graduate tax when Labour is pledging to scrap tuition fees altogether.

There lies Cable’s challenge. Farron may have stepped down a week after the election declaring himself “torn” between religion and party, but if he had stayed, he would have had to face the fact that voters were happier to nibble Labour’s Brexit fudge (with lashings of free tuition fees), than choose a party on pure Remain principles alone.

“We are not a single-issue party…we’re not Ukip in reverse,” Cable said. “I see our future as a party of government.” In which case, the onus is on him to come up with something more inspiring than a graduate tax.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.