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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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.