The press is throwing a toddler's tantrum over Leveson

Much of the press seems to be belly-down on the supermarket floor, punching the linoleum, kicking out and screaming WAAH WAAH BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE REGULATED. Here are ten truths the media needs to hear.

Recently I read some advice on dealing with a toddler’s tantrum. Try to ignore it, was the suggestion, by walking into another room. If ignoring doesn’t work, say something like “Time to stop now – I’ll count to 10”.

Much of the press seems to be belly-down on the supermarket floor, punching the linoleum, kicking out and screaming WAAH WAAH BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE REGULATED. Ignoring hasn’t worked, so . . .

ONE – The lack of self-reflection is truly staggering. The Leveson process is not something which was done to us. Nobody woke up one morning and thought “I know what I’ll do today – curtail the freedom of the press.” This is something entirely caused by the industry being, on the whole, out of control; engaging in occasionally illegal and often unethical practices. Take responsibility.

TWO – We had several chances at self-regulation which was not independently assessed and externally supervised. We made a complete arse of it. To ask for yet another round of the same sounds like an abusive alcoholic promising never to beat their spouse again, bathed in the light of the X-rays of their partner's latest fractures. The credibility, goodwill and trust necessary for self-regulation to work are just not there.

THREE – Attacking the individuals involved in the Hacked Off campaign with ad hominem and below-the-belt articles, only serves to prove the point that regulation is necessary now as much as ever. It is like waiting round the back of the school to beat up the kid who reported you for bullying. Publishing articles illustrated with Hugh Grant photoshopped to look like a pig only serves to make journalists look stupid and petty. Not to mention that, annoyingly, Grant makes the whole porky thing work and is still pretty sexy as a pig-man.

For comparison, here is a pig with the nose of Hugh Grant.

FOUR – Regulation of professional standards is part of modern life. Embrace it. Every profession on the eve of regulation has warned that it will be destroyed be it. None, that I can think of, has. Many have been reputationally enhanced. We keep complaining that we are crowded out by social media and blogs. A system of kitemarking quality, standards and ethics could be the unique selling point the industry desperately needs.

FIVE – Publications owned by Murdoch, the Barclay brothers and Lord Rothermere complaining that the Hacked Off campaign has secretly lobbied politicians is off the irony scale. Hacked Off’s agenda is completely public. They are saying what they have been saying all along, to anyone willing to listen. To claim that this somehow is tantamount to, for instance - a secret and unminuted tea date or dinner party with the Prime Minister on the eve of launching a huge takeover bid - is ridiculous.

SIX – If you wish to preserve your independence, you could start by demonstrating it. For example, you could do a hard-hitting piece investigating how and why David Cameron has arrived at his current position after promising to implement the Leveson proposals in full, unless they were “bonkers”. By not taking up the opportunity – because it is against the industry’s interests – and toeing the editorial line, you demonstrate the opposite of independence.

SEVEN – Prove your talent for factual and balanced reporting with factual and balanced reporting. Calling what is proposed “statutory regulation”, when you know it is not and everyone knows it is not and everyone knows that you know it is not, does not do you any favours. Stop claiming the world will cave in if this is allowed. Nobody believes it.

EIGHT – Listen to your professional union. "It is hugely ironic that those owners and editors who vehemently opposed Leveson's recommendations for an independent regulatory system, have so lost perspective in the collective hysteria that has gripped them in recent months, that they've colluded in a Royal Charter fudge that could risk opening the door to future political meddling in our press.”

NINE – Understand change. Invariably the players who do best in a situation where change is necessary are the ones who accept it the earliest and get involved in contributing to how it might best come about. Heckling and sulking is the worst possible strategy in a climate where public opinion is overwhelmingly – and rightly – in favour of change.

TEN – Most importantly, please stop suggesting that campaigners, by allegedly bullying politicians, have “become what they despised”. First, this involves an admission that the industry does bully politicians.

Second, you may intend to aim the slur at Hugh Grant, but the buckshot hits people like the Dowlers and the McCanns and Chris Jefferies – and they have suffered enough in this industry’s hands.

Campaigning for a piece of legislation is not the same as taking long-lens shots of families in grief at a funeral. It is not the same as naming an innocent person as a murderer based on no evidence. It is not the same as accusing the parents of a kidnapped girl of killing her; getting a paediatrician's home spray-painted with the word "paedo" after the Name and Shame campaign. It is not the same as hiding a note in a five-year-old’s schoolbag to browbeat her novelist mother into giving an interview. It is not the same as hacking a dead girl’s phone. This is the behaviour that has brought us to this point – not campaigners. Our behaviour.

Time to stop now.

Hugh Grant: more attractive without the pig snout, but only just. Photo: Getty

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

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Private renter poverty has doubled in a decade - so where's Labour?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation named housing market failures as driving poverty. 

Labour’s economic policy task is enormous. It must find a coherent argument that addresses Brexit, the “left behinds”, and a nervous business community. But there is one policy area that should be an open goal – private renting. 

The number of private renters in poverty has doubled over the last decade, according to a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Those most likely to fall into poverty are working families – there were 2.8m of these people in 2014-15, compared to 1m a decade earlier.

“Failures in the housing market are a significant driver of poverty,” the report noted, after finding more than 70 per cent of private renters in poverty pay at least a third of their income in rent.

This is particularly the case if you consider the knock-on effect - housing benefit. This benefit was frozen by George Osborne, meaning that by 2015 Shelter calculated rates had fallen behind actual rents in nearly 70 per cent of England. For families out of work, of course, housing benefit is also included in the benefit cap. 

Private renter poverty is easily characterised as an inner-city problem – the kind cherished by the “metropolitan elite”. But in fact, across Great Britain as a whole, roughly one in ten children under 19 lives in a family that is privately renting and claiming housing benefit. The highest percentage was in Blackpool, followed by the Essex coastal area of Tendring, followed by London boroughs. Private renting is a trend that affects both the Remain strongholds and the Leave coastal towns.

So far, Labour has been relatively quiet on private renting. During the summer’s leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn promised to introduce “rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights” (a promise he repeated as part of a longer speech in November). But this is hardly a blockbuster campaign. 

And the challenges are great. A convincing renting policy must explain how Labour would deal with a reactionary letting market industry (including pensioner voters), whether renting should be a step to buying, or an end in itself, and how new council and social housing would be allocated.

Labour could also, though, tie a rent campaign into other trends - the growing army of self-employed that find it hard to prove their wages to a landlord or mortgage lender, the working families on frozen benefits, and the employers that find their employees priced out of the local area. And pissed-off tenants are not hard to find. 

If Labour doesn’t move soon on an issue that should be its natural home, the government may steal the keys. In the Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond helped himself to Ed Miliband’s 2015 promise to ban letting agent fees. The government has also set up a working group with members of the private renting industry. (Yes, the government may also be selling off social housing under Right to Buy, but if you never had the option of social housing anyway, this may pass you by.)

Fixing the housing market takes imagination and a steeliness to take on entrenched interests. But if Labour does come up with a solution, it could touch the lives of voters, both Leave and Remain. 

 

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