Strong words in the Lords today about the media and the government’s stance on Leveson, but what are the discussions like between the three parties behind the scenes?
Though they started off with some similarly stern words, the cross-party talks on the response to the Leveson report have, all sides agree, been progressing well. Far from the communication breakdown that some envisaged, there has been a relatively pleasant atmosphere. The Lib Dems and Labour, though they disagree with the Conservative line, are both keen to praise Oliver Letwin in particular for the way he is conducting the discussions, and for going away and working on the details discussed in each session.
Some progress has been made on the detail of the undertakings for media organisations, but Labour is refusing to budge on the fundamental principle of statutory underpinning. A party source tells me:
‘In a number of ways we are making real progress in terms of the detail: we’ve agreed that the undertakings should be on the fuller side rather than lacking in detail. But the Royal Charter is still complex: it’s uncharted territory, it’s a known unknown. it’s a very unusual way of trying to sort of pass what is meant to be regulation.’
The party says that a crunch vote on the issue at the end of January is still very much on the cards, and a series of meetings next week could indicate whether this would result in a humiliating defeat for the government.
From their side, the pro-statute Tories believe that their numbers have not reduced over the Christmas recess, with 44 Conservative MPs prepared to publicly support it, while the number of those backing the principle in private has not changed either.