Clegg joins Miliband in supporting state-backed press regulation

Cameron is left as the only one of the three main party leaders opposed to statutory underpinning of the new system.

Delivering his own separate Commons statement, Nick Clegg has just joined Ed Miliband in supporting state-backed regulation of the press, the central recommendation of the Leveson report. Clegg argued that changing the law was "the only way to give us all the assurance that the new regulator isn’t just independent for a few months or years, but is independent for good."

The Deputy PM said that he had concerns about the proposed changes to data protection law and the suggestion that Ofcom should independently verify the new press regulator, but otherwise welcomed Leveson's recommendations as "proportionate and workable". He rejected the claim, made by Cameron, that state involvement would blur the line between politicians and the media, arguing that the line had already been blurred under the current system of self-regulation.

Clegg concluded:

We mustn’t now prevaricate. I – like many people – am impatient for reform. And, bluntly, nothing I have seen so far in this debate suggests to me we will find a better solution than the one which has been proposed. Nor do I draw any hope from the repeated failure of pure self-regulation that we’ve seen over the last 60 years.

This leaves Cameron as the only one of the three main party leaders opposed to statutory underpinning of the new regulatory system. Should Ed Miliband succeed in forcing a vote on the Leveson report, there is now a chance that Cameron will be defeated. In addition to most Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, more than 70 Conservative MPs have publicly declared their support for state-backed regulation.

Nick Clegg said that "changing the law" was only the way to ensure the new press regulator is independent. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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