Friday, 30 November 2012

Cameron still responds to Murdoch's dog-whistle

David Cameron's performance responding to the Leveson report demonstrates why the man is unfit to be Prime Minister.  It is perfectly possible to be a civil libertarian and argue that the media needs to be underpinned by a statutory backing for a regulatory framework - not arguing for intervention in content but in ensuring that relations between the media, politicians and the police are subject to independent and effective scrutiny.

All the press, from the rarefied and reasonably-ethical to the cesspool of the tabloids, has been sailing closer to the abyss for the last thirty years.  What Leveson exposed is that a dying medium becomes more and more desperate and less concerned with probity, especially with the active or passive collusion of those who the public have a reasonable expectation to defend them from abuse.  This alone is sufficient to require action to defend the public.

Instead what we received from our Prime Minister, who increasingly resembles Thatcher in being dependent upon Murdoch's support for continued political survival beyond the reasonable sell-by date, was a casuistry worthy of Opus Dei in arguing that, despite all evidence to the contrary, all that was needed for self-regulation to work were incremental tweaks to the existing framework.  A more sceptical person than I would imagine that News International had some input to the insipidity that he came out with.

The facts that the Prime Minister, despite warnings, employed a media adviser who is now facing criminal charges, and that the engagement with News International in the run-up to the 2010 election saw a total reversal of Tory media policy to a pro-Murdoch agenda, and that he then used illogic and unreason to perpetuate the career of Jeremy "Rhyming Slang" Hunt even when the test of what a reasonable person would think had been exceeded, demonstrates a huge lack of judgement and moral turpitude on a level that should be called out.

However, as a dog knows not to bite the hand that feeds, Cameron still seems impelled to deal with his patrons leniently.  Off he goes to Cruft's for obedience class - jumping through logical and ethical hoops to get his mates off the hook.

One Tory backbencher asked whether the Liberal Democrats should still be in Coalition with the Tories following Clegg's endorsement of Leveson's recommendations.  Leaving aside whether they should have been there in the first place, this is pertinent.  As it becomes clear that Cameron remains Murdoch's parliamentary representative, Clegg has to weigh up what that means for democracy going forward - even at the expense of his remaining electoral prospects.  

It might be that Clegg should use Leveson as the final piece of evidence that the Tories have given no thought to the realities of Coalition, and that they cannot be treated as rational or ethical partners.  This is a time to surf the wave of disgust and revulsion, not to tie in a political destiny with a bunch of amoral clients whose interests are diametrically opposed to a free, scrutinising press, and who see in the media a means of stifling debate rather than promoting plurality, information and engagement.

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