44 Tories call for state press regulation on eve of Leveson
After Boris Johnson and Michael Gove speak out against statutory regulation, other Tories break ranks
A LETTER today in The Guardian from 42 Tory MPs and two peers - including four former Cabinet ministers - in support of some form of statutory regulation of the press appears to open a rift in the party over the Leveson Inquiry's upcoming recommendations.
The 44 Tories argue that "there are fundamental weaknesses in the current model of self-regulation which cannot be ignored" and claim that the media industry's plans to maintain a self-regulatory system "lack independence" and are "destined to fail".
The Guardian letter reveals a divide within Conservative ranks, who were previously thought to be of one mind. As The Guardian says, "The party is not going to respond to the Leveson Inquiry with a monolithic opposition to legal regulation of the industry." And as a Tory source told the paper, "The refusal to countenance any statutory change is no longer acceptable."
With Lord Leveson due to report before the end of the month, most public comments from high-profile Conservatives have been against imposing reform on the industry.
Boris Johnson wrote in his Daily Telegraph column that "we have benefited immeasurably from having a free press in this country".
Cabinet minister Eric Pickles told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show it was "massively important to ensure we have freedom of press” in the UK while Education Secretary Michael Gove, a former Times man, defended the "precious liberty" of journalists at the inquiry.
Chancellor George Osborne is also believed to oppose regulation.
The Guardian says that the new front opened by the pro-regulation camp gives David Cameron more leeway in deciding whether to accept Leveson's recommendations, especially if the judge advocates substantial reform.
With Labour and the Liberal Democrats believed to be in favour of regulation, the Prime Minister is no longer being backed into a corner by his party on opposing reforms which are likely to find favour with public opinion.