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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.