I have to say I was fair chuffed with our boy this afternoon. Nick Clegg showed how to conduct disagreements with your partners in an orderly, respectful and calm fashion. No matter how many times people tried to get him to slag Cameron, who was, by the way, completely out on a limb today, he refused and talked about trying to build a consensus.
I can’t, for the life of me, see what the problem is with Leveson’s clever proposal for a self regulating body with true independence – ie not full of newspaper editors or chaired by politicians. It seems pretty obvious to me that Cameron is trying to protect the powerful corporate interests that run the media for some reason. Well, protecting powerful vested interests is what Tories do, so we shouldn’t be surprised. I really don’t get how giving statutory underpinning to a regulatory body the press sets up itself along Leveson’s guidelines infringes press freedom in any way. Is the BBC, which is regulated to within an inch of its life, curbed or compromised in any way? Of course not.
Nick was very calm and assured at the Despatch Box, and there was no sign of bad blood between he and the Prime Minister. He said his piece, which you can read in full here and took questions for quite a while, cracking a few jokes about the realities of coalition while he was at it.
He was very clear that the worst that could happen would be for nothing to change and emphasised how important to balance two fundamental liberal principles – the need for a free press holding politicians to account, and the need to protect innocent people from the abuses of powerful vested interests. He talked about how the Irish system was set up by Parliament, reeled off a long list of British newspapers who have Irish editions and said he’d never heard them complaining about an illiberal press environment there.
He wasn’t entirely uncritical – saying that Leveson’s chapters on using OFCOM as a backstop regulator, and on data protection would need more careful scrutiny.
He also hinted, when pressed by Tories who think he should basically just have done what Cameron wanted, that there may be more double statements in future. I think he has to play his hand wisely on that – but there are no greater issues than secret courts and web snooping where he would do well to set out the distinctive liberal case.
I did a wee Storify thingy to keep the tweets of the occasion together. Near the bottom, there’s some wee gems from the Chief Whip.