John O’Sullivan’s powerful post on the appalling press regulation now being proposed in Britain stands brilliantly (anyone interested in British politics and/or free speech should read it) on its own, but it is worth adding that — regardless of the principle of the matter — Cameron’s surrender, because that’s what it is, shows the extraordinary tactical and strategic stupidity of the contemporary Conservative party. It was a tactical mistake because it deprived the Tories of an issue — free speech (and, as John reminds us, the proposed regulation is about “more” than the press) — that they could, with guile and determination, made their own to useful electoral effect, and, at the moment, they don’t have many such issues. And it is a strategic error, because, by letting the regulator in, they will have set in motion a process that is likely to have a chilling effect on one area of British public life not already dominated by the soft-left consensus.
As so often, Cranmer gets to the point. Here’s part of what he has to say:
It beggars belief that an English prime minister – and a Conservative prime minister at that – could support proposals which will censor, inhibit or neuter investigative journalism. Not for 300 years have newspapers been ‘licensed’ by the state. Those which do not cooperate will face the possibility of draconian fines, such that their operations may become uninsurable. Significantly, Lord Justice Leveson restricted his proposals to the print media. He was of the view that it ‘operates very differently from blogs on the internet and other social media such as Twitter’. One may quibble with his ignorance of both the rate of decline of newspapers and the reach and influence of some blogs, but his proposal was clearly for a watchdog regime aimed at the press, enshrined in law: the internet was to be left unregulated. But David Cameron’s Royal Charter appears to extend the definition of ‘publisher’ to include online media…
Cranmer points out that the proposed new regulatory system paves the way for interminable (and expensive) harassment even if the offending blogger is “acquitted,” even down to paying, it seems, the costs of his accuser.
The deal was cooked up, apparently, by the leaderships of Britain’s three main establishment parties, something that (as I noted last night on Twitter) reminded me of nothing so much as the last line of Animal Farm.
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
As John noted, UKIP has taken a different, characteristically independent, stance — a robust defense of free speech. Draw your own conclusions. It is to be hoped that the voters do.