Leveson Report Due

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Leveson is upon us. Across Fleet St colleagues and lawyers are preparing to lock themselves in with the 2000pp report at 11, ahead of formal publication at 1:30. The bad news is it hasn’t leaked – admit it, that would have been funny – but a few hints emerged last night and are reflected in the papers.Focus is already on the political reaction rather than the report itself, as whatever LJL may say it will be the Government and the Commons which decide. The most intriguing thing this morning, aside from what Dave might do, is Nick Clegg’s position. There is a lot of puzzlement over why he might favour a statutory solution, as state licensing of the press hardly seems like a Lib Dem thing (Liberal.Democrat. Clue’s in the name). I also picked up a hint that there might be dissent among the assessors – minority report? Doubt it. Passing the QEII late last night I counted three large stage sets for the broadcasters and lots of telly vans. Prepare for a day of non-stop self-obsession by the media. It’s a good day to invade Belgium.

After a fruitless 40 minute meeting last night, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg will meet again this morning in an attempt to thrash out their differences, the FT (£) reports. However, as the Telegraph notes, Mr Clegg is still inclined to make his own statement. If the Speaker lets him do that, he may as well allow Mr Cameron to make two statements, one for each wing of the Conservative Party, which the Guardian‘s Martin Kettle identifies as those who back a “broadly pragmatic liberal option” and those favouring an “essentially doctrinaire conservative one”. George Eustice has just been on the Today programme advocating the former course. Confusingly, doctrinaire conservatism was represented by David Blunkett.

Today’s papers are brimming with defiance. The Sun demands “change not chains” and quotes luminaries ranging from Boris Johnson to Katie Price, while many also carry Peter Lilley‘s line from last night’s Channel Four interview in which he said: “I’ve been a victim, I don’t like them, but prefer a free press than a state regulated press.” The Spectator has gone further still with its latest editorial declaring that it will refuse to recognise any regulatory regime imposed by statute.

It may not come to that, however. The Guardian is suggesting that newspapers may be given six months to “put their house in order”, in defiance of the Number 10 advisers who are urging him to be particularly hard on the Tory press. Such a move would sour relations, but as Sue Cameron notes in the Telegraph, the proper relationship between press and politician will always be an antagonistic one:

“Back in 1771 King George III wrote to Lord North, the prime minister, saying: ‘It is highly necessary that this strange and lawless method of publishing debates in the papers should be put a stop to.’ Unfortunately for the King and even more for Lord North, the newspaper they objected to was being printed in the City under the aegis of the Lord Mayor, a gout-ridden old soak called Brass Crosby. The London mob rose in defence of the Lord Mayor and press freedom. They marched on Westminster, dragged Lord North from his coach and attacked him with cudgels they had stolen from the constabulary. The poor man managed to escape into Westminster Hall, where he burst into tears.”

An unhappy precedent for Mr Cameron, but thank heavens relations between the Prime Minister and London’s Mayor have improved since then.

SUPER THURSDAY: THE SEQUEL

Nothing as exciting as Police and Crime Commissioner elections today, but three fascinating by-elections in the Labour seats of Rotherham, Middlesbrough and Croydon North. As the Times (£) notes, it could be a very good day for the minor parties. Ukip are anticipating their highest ever general election tally in Rotherham, while Respect believe they will beat the Conservatives into third. Even the English Democrats are shorter odds in the betting than either of the Coalition partners. Writing in today’s Telegraph, Harry Wallop argues this could be a breakthrough day for Ukip:

“The party does now have a proper manifesto, with eye-catching and uncosted promises designed to appeal to disillusioned Tories at the libertarian end of the party… these promises – particularly its two central ones: to put a temporary halt to all immigration, and to hold a referendum about pulling out of Europe – have struck a bell far from its roots in the Home Counties.”

The count in all the seats will take place overnight. Middlesbrough is expected to declare at around 12:30am, with Croydon North at 2:30am and Rotheram at 3:00am.

DAVE’S PROBLEM WITH DISCIPLINE

Let them hate, so long as they fear, the old axiom goes. Unfortunately for Coalition discipline, there is precious little of the latter and an excess of the former circulating at the moment. Today’s friendly fire comes from the very senior Lib Dem quoted in the New Statesman claiming that Dave has made the Coalition unworkable by allowing the Conservatives to become “the British Tea Party”. He is also accused of being against a mansion tax because “the people he meets at dinner parties in Whitney” would be put out. At least this makes a change from the flack the Prime Minister is used to receiving from his own backbenchers. As Peter Oborne writes in today’s Telegraph, this is only a problem which will escalate:

“In recent months, two votes have been lost, and the situation will get worse as the Coalition disintegrates. Difficult challenges lie ahead: Leveson, the Autumn Statement, the European budget. The Prime Minister desperately needs a first-class whipping operation, and is starting to pay a heavy price for his very culpable failure to pay attention to party management. A significant minority of MPs are no longer frightened to rebel: certainly more than 42, the number needed to mount a leadership challenge. Before long it will be too late.”

CONCRETE COUNTRYSIDE FAILS TO BOLES OVER THE CRITICS

Yesterday’s Telegraph revelations that Nick Boles wants to concrete over 1,500 square miles of countryside to provide affordable housing has drawn sharp rebukes in this morning’s leader columns. The Telegraph‘s leader called it a “recipe for senseless sprawl”, while the Mail‘s leader criticised a “man without a plan”. The paper’s columnist Stephen Glover goes further, asking: “What is the point of the Conservative Party if not to conserve the ancient things that are precious to most citizens?”

BLAIR: TORIES SUFFER EUROPE “VIRUS”

Mr Tony knows a thing about diplomacy, having so adroitly brought about lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, hence his warning that it would be a “monumental error of statesmanship” to ditch Europe as a result of “a kind of virus that makes you take irrational positions” (Independent story here). It would also put a dampener on the ambitions of a Brit to be European President. Still, all is not lost. With Boris Johnson making a bold pitch for Lakshmi Mittal, and Tone needing a country at the heart of Europe, maybe Britain and France could arrange a swap?

PAYDAY LENDERS TO FACE INTEREST RATE CAP

Facing a Lords defeat, the Government has agreed to amend the Financial Services Bill to “clean-up the system”, the Independent reports. The reforms will cover both the cost of credit and loan duration, Lord Sassoon confirmed. With loan rates reducing from the current 4,000pc, presumably the payday loan game will become a lot less profitable, which is one way to prevent the Number 10 operation continuing to hemorrhage advisers…

LIB DEMS COULD BREAK RANKS ON COMMUNICATIONS BILL

The Communications Data Bill, which will give the police powers to monitor email and internet use, may lose Lib Dem support according to the BBC. Nick Clegg is said to be non-committal about the reforms, although the Home Office insists they will become law by 2014.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Tom Harris strikes a conciliatory chord over Leveson:

@TomHarrisMP: “Tomorrow’s Daily Mail front page: ‘PRESS REGULATION TO BE USED BY GYPSIES TO STEAL YOUR HOME. AND GIVE YOU CANCER'”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne – Cameron will pay a heavy price for the feebleness of his whips

Harry Wallop – Could this be Ukip’s day?

Sue Cameron – MPs and the press have battled for centuries

Jeremy Warner – The end of growth? That’s what some economists are saying

Best of the rest

David Aaronovitch in The Times (£) – You can trust the public. They’re not savages

Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail – A nanny state that dictates what we drink will soon be telling us how to think

Andreas Whittam Smith in the Independent – Restrain the press or free it? There is, in fact, a middle way

Jim Stanford in the FT (£) – Britain shouild learn from Canada as well as Carney

THE AGENDA

TODAY: Parliamentary by-elections in Rotherham, Middlesbrough and Croydon North. Croydon North result 2:30 am Friday, Middlesbrough 12:30 am and Rotherham 3:00 am.

11:00 am: Oliver Letwin speech at launch of Centre for Social Justice Breakthrough Britain report.

11:30 am: Energy Bill published. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey to make statement to the Commons, followed by press conference at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

01:30 pm: Lord Justice Leveson will publish the Report from the Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press. The Report will be laid in both Houses of Parliament. Lord Justice Leveson intends to make an on-camera statement about his findings immediately after publication in the QEII Conference Centre. David Cameron will make a Commons statement at 3:00pm.

China News

The online version of China’s Communist party newspaper has hailed a report by The Onion naming North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as the sexiest man alive – not realising it is satire.

The People’s Daily ran a 55-page photo spread on its website in a tribute to the leader, under the headline North Korea’s top leader named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2012.

Quoting the Onion’s spoof report, the Chinese newspaper wrote: “With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true.”

The People’s Daily cited the Onion as saying: “Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.”Photos with the story include Kim on horseback squinting into the light…

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