No, Leveson hasn't banned "off-the-record" briefings

Why journalists are wrong to panic.

The section of the Leveson report (you can read the executive summary here and the full report here) relating to "off-the-record" briefings has been interpreted by many journalists as a call for them to be banned. Such a measure would be both unjust and unenforceable but, thankfully, the report doesn't actually propose it.

First, the section in question relates specifically to contacts betweeen the press and the police, not those between the press and politicians (or anyone else). Second, it doesn't call for off-the-record briefings to banned, but for them to be described henceforth as "non-reportable" briefings. Leveson's objection isn't to the practice itself (he states that "everybody agrees that such briefings can operate in the public interest") but rather to the ambiguity created by the term "off-the-record".

Point 75 on p. 43 of the executive summary states: 

The term 'off-the-record briefing' should be discontinued. The term 'non-reportable briefing' should be used to cover a background briefing which is not to be reported, and the term 'embargoed briefing' should be used to cover a situation where the content of the briefing may be reported but not until a specified event or time. These terms more neutrally describe what are legitimate police and media interactions.

Now, one could argue that renaming "off-the-record" briefings as "non-reportable" briefings is pointless semantics, but no one should claim that Leveson has called for the practice to be banned.

Lord Justice Leveson delivers a statement on his report into the press at the Queen Elizabeth II centre in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

The Brexit slowdown is real

As Europe surges ahead, the UK is enduring its worst economic growth for five years. 

The recession that the Treasury and others forecast would follow the EU referendum never came. But there is now unmistakable evidence of an economic slowdown. 

Growth in the second quarter of this year was 0.3 per cent, which, following quarter one's 0.2 per cent, makes this the worst opening half since 2012. For individuals, growth is now almost non-existent. GDP per capita rose by just 0.1 per cent, continuing the worst living standards recovery on record. 

That Brexit helped cause the slowdown, rather than merely coincided with it, is evidenced by several facts. One is that, as George Osborne's former chief of staff Rupert Harrison observes, "the rest of Europe is booming and we're not". In the year since the EU referendum, Britain has gone from being one of the west's strongest performers to one of its weakest. 

The long-promised economic rebalancing, meanwhile, is further away than ever. Industrial production and manufacturing declined by 0.4 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively, with only services (up 0.5 per cent) making up for the shortfall. But with real wage growth negative (falling by 0.7 per cent in the three months to May 2017), and household saving at a record low, there is limited potential for consumers to continue to power growth. The pound's sharp depreciation since the Brexit vote has cut wages (by increasing inflation) without producing a corresponding rise in exports. 

To the UK's existing defects – low productivity, low investment and low pay – new ones have been added: political uncertainty and economic instability. As the clock runs down on its departure date, Britain is drifting towards Brexit in ever-worse shape. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.