Mehdi's Morning Memo: Will Leveson Nuke The Press?

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The ten things you need to know on Thursday 29th November 2012...

1) WILL LEVESON NUKE THE PRESS?

Knock, knock. Who's there? A guy with a 2,000-page report inside a box that could change the face of Britain's media - and transform the relationship between politicians and the press forever.

Yesterday, David Cameron received his copy of the Leveson Inquiry report on press standards and ethics, giving him a chance to take a break from playing Fruit Ninja and have a 24-hour reading headstart on the rest of us.

Ed Miliband has now got his copy (five, in fact). The rest of us plebs get to see it at 1:30pm today (will the inquiry website crash?). And the PM then speaks at 3pm in the Commons.

So, how big a deal is this? The Guardian, in its splash, says this "will be a landmark day for politicians, the media and the police" (the police, remember them?).

The paper's headline reads: "Cameron and Clegg at odds on Leveson as D-day dawns." Why? Because Nick Clegg has taken the unprecedented step of approaching the Speaker to seek permission to give his own statement in the Commons, after David Cameron has sat down this afternoon - not as the deputy PM but as the leader of the Lib Dems. (Now I know get why the Lib Dems have always wanted that ugly, European-style, horseshoe Commons chamber...)

The Telegraph reports, on its front page:

"Mr Cameron is likely to say that he wishes to set up a tough independent regulator and that although "statute is not off the table" it is not his immediate preferred option.

"The Deputy Prime Minister is thought to favour a commitment to introduce the necessary laws.

"The Liberal Democrats are considering forming a pact with Labour to introduce statutory regulation of the press, amid signs that many Conservatives would refuse to back such legislation. The Prime Minister, who received a copy of Lord Justice Leveson's report yesterday, may now be forced to give MPs a free vote on the recommendations.

"Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, is expected to start talks with the Labour Party within hours of the report being published."

The chances of a cross-party consensus on 'statutory regulation'? Pretty close to zero. Expect lots of heat, not much light. Expect plenty of references to 'statutory regulation' from MPs and commentators who have little understanding of what it means or entails.

Do voters give a damn? Well, yes, actually. The Guardian reports on the two latest polls on press trust and regulation and the trend is pretty clear:

"Two polls by ComRes, one for ITV and another for BBC Radio 5 Live, showed firm support for independent regulation backed by law. The ITV poll showed 51% of the public think the government should introduce statutory regulation of the media... The BBC poll showed 66% of respondents have not very much trust, or no trust, in British newspapers telling the truth. Almost half (47%) of those questioned said they most wanted a regulatory body for newspapers where the rules were agreed and enforced by the courts."

And can you blame them for saying so? Christopher Jefferies, the landlord and former schoolteacher who was smeared and demonised by eight different newspapers after the horrific murder of architect Joanna Yeates, has just been on the Today programme reminding us that some sections of our print press have been out of control...

2) LEVESON BY NUMBERS

Want some more data?

17 - times Rupert Murdoch said "sorry" during the last three hours of his inquiry evidence.
97 - days the inquiry sat for over eight months.
163 - pages of emails between Adam Smith, special adviser to then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Fred Michel, News Corp lobbyist, over News Corp's bid for the remaining shares of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
474 - people from whom the inquiry heard evidence.
542 - the number of text messages Mr Michel sent Mr Smith, which Mr Hunt said worked out at about five a day.
1,404 - meetings David Cameron had with the media during four years and five months as Opposition leader.
6,349 - potential victims of phone hacking identified as at February this year.

3) RECORD BREAKERS!

The Lib Dem leader might be keen to 'differentiate' himself from the prime minister on media regulation but, no matter what he does, one issue will haunt him and his party right up until election day 2015: tuition fees.

Senior Liberal Democrats will be grimacing as they read this story on the front of the Telegraph:

"The number of students applying for university courses has seen a record drop as £9,000 tuition fees continue to put off applicants.

"By the middle of this month, only 120,000 British students had applied to courses starting next year, a decrease of more than 13,000 and nearly 10 per cent down from the same stage last year.

"Students beginning university next year are only the second cohort to pay higher tuition fees, which were increased to a maximum of £9,000 a year in 2011, almost treble the previous limit."

It's not looking good for Clegg, Cable and co...

4) STOP PRESS! LIBERAL DEMOCRATS ACTING LIKE LIBERALS...

Hold on. I take it back. The Liberal Democrats are standing up for their party's core principles - and for the first bit of their name. Well, that's what the BBC's James Landale says:

"The Lib Dems might withdraw their support for government plans to give the police new powers to monitor email and internet use, the BBC has learned.

"Party sources say leader Nick Clegg is ready to use a parliamentary report, due out next week, to oppose the plans.

"The draft Communications Data Bill would allow police access to details of people's email and internet use, which many Lib Dems oppose.

"But Home Office sources insist the bill would become law by 2014."

5) NOT-SO-SUPER THURSDAY

On any other day, we might be paying a bit more attention to the fact voters are set to go to the polls in three parliamentary by-elections today.

From the BBC:

"The contests will take place in Croydon North, Middlesbrough and Rotherham... The Croydon and Middlesbrough contests were triggered by the deaths of MPs Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell and that in Rotherham by the resignation of Denis MacShane."

"All three seats are Labour seats - but expect a good showing from the 'anti politics' parties of the left and the right. The Times reports:

"The UK Independence Party and George Galloway’s Respect are expected to benefit from growing disenchantment with Britain’s main political parties today as voters in Rotherham head to the polls.

"Labour is expected to retain the seat but is facing by-election challenges from the two fringe parties.

"Ukip and Respect hope to leapfrog the Tories and the Lib Dems and eat into Labour’s 10,000-vote majority by exploiting an anti-politics sentiment that has been exacerbated by an unpopular council, a disgraced MP and scandals over fostering and child sexual exploitation."

Here's a question: while we're all distracted by the writings of Brian Leveson, what if, against all odds, Ukip and/or Respect pull off another Bradford West in Rotherham or even Croydon North?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a boy playing table tennis with a kitten.

6) MY PRECONDITION? NO PRECONDITIONS

"Palestine's moment of truth at the UN - but Britain sits on the fence," is the headline in the Independent.

Foreign secretary William Hague yesterday told MPs in the Commons that the UK government would be abstaining on today's United Nations vote on whether to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state - unless, that is, the Palestinian leadership decide to re-enter peace talks with the Israeli government and agree not to pursue the Israelis for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Guardian's Steve Bell puts these rather apt words in William Hague's mouth in his cartoon this morning: "My condition is that the Palestinians must not ask for preconditions."

7) BALLS, GLASS AND STEAGALL

The shadow chancellor has been speaking to the folks at the FT:

"Ed Balls has fired a warning shot against George Osborne over bank reform by warning there is no 'consensus' over the issue and a Labour government could still carry out a Glass-Steagall style separation if the industry does not change its culture voluntarily.

"... Urging banks to 'lead the change' that was needed in the structure and culture of Britain's banking sector, Mr Balls told the Financial Times that bank customers were no longer prepared to 'lie down and be walked over'.

"The former City minister is an ally of the banking industry and in government could be a buffer between the banks and Ed Miliband, Labour leader, who sees bad behaviour by banks as an exemplar of 'irresponsible capitalism'.

"The subtext is that he is urging banks to help themselves, knowing an incoming Labour government would be under huge pressure to tackle the City."

8) WOTCHA WONGA

As Christmas approaches, a reluctant coalition government has decided to emulate Christ and go after the moneylenders in the temple; from the Guardian:

"In a significant climbdown, the government has agreed to change the law to give the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) powers to set a cap on exorbitant interest rates charged on payday loans.

"In the House of Lords, the next archbishop of Canterbury accused payday loan companies of charging "clearly usurious" rates, while the Treasury minister Lord Sassoon accepted the broad principles of a cross-party move to set a cap.

"The move is a victory for the campaigning Labour MP Stella Creasy, who has highlighted the devastating impact of 1,700% interest rates."

Expect many more newspaper profiles of Creasy and lots more chatter about how she's a 'future Labour leader'.

9) GUESS WHO'S COMING TO LUNCH?

From the New York Times:

"President Obama will have lunch with his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, at the White House on Thursday, making good on an election-night pledge by the president to meet with Mr. Romney.

"The White House announced the event Wednesday, in a statement released by Mr. Obama’s press secretary. The lunch will take place in the Private Dining Room, next to the Oval Office in the West Wing, the White House said.

"'It will be the first opportunity they have had to visit since the election,' the statement says. 'There will be no press coverage of the meeting.'"

Will Mittens be able to resist taking a peek inside the Oval Office? Or will it all just be too painful for the 2012 loser? Oh, and will he be taking Barack and Michelle a gift?

10) BEN'S PEE PEE PROBLEM

My colleague Charlie Lindlar reports:

"Antiquated as it is, parliament is sometimes liable to the odd structural mishap. In one such case, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw's office is experiencing a wee problem at the moment... Literally.

"@BenPBradshaw Urine seems to be pouring through the ceiling into my Commons office for the second day running!

"Bradshaw pins the blame not on an incontinent upstairs parliamentary neighbour but on "a men's urinal with Victorian copper piping with holes in it".

"... The MP has yet to order an urgent inquiry into the leak."

Boom boom!

QUOTE UNQUOTE

“This is the last moment that we should start talking about leaving, about quitting the field just as the game starts, marginalising ourselves at the very point at which we should be at the centre of things." - Tony Blair, speaking at a Business for New Europe conference at Chatham House yesterday.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 118.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@PaulLewis Will be amusing to watch the flurry of tweets at 1.30pm today, all trying to compress 2,000 pages into 140 characters #Leveson

@DavidAllenGreen Now only *SIX* hours until Asteroid #Leveson smashes into Earth, extinguishing free speech everywhere and forever. Or something like that.

@timothy_stanley Seems the penalty for losing a presidential election is you have to have lunch with the winner.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Boris Johnson, writing in the Sun, says: "To pass a law controlling the media would be to go back on three centuries of Press freedom."

Emily Bell, writing in the Guardian, says: "The judge's findings will address the nefarious behaviour of newspapers but not the vast array of media on the internet."

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The PM’s haughty disregard of his own party is reminiscent of Tony Blair at his peak."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol