David Cameron playing the power game – What was going on behind the scenes of press regulation party talks?
In the early hours of this morning (Monday 18 March), the three main political parties reached an agreement over the course of press regulation in the UK, just days after Prime Minister David Cameron withdrew from talks, stating that no agreement would be made. So just what was going on behind the scenes at Westminster to make this deal happen? Liam Herbert, managing director of public affairs agency JBP uses all his experience and contacts to bring us the inside story.
Liam Herbert: Who won and who backed down?
Even by the standards of over excitement and speculation normally associated with life in the Westminster Village – think Eastenders but with fewer murders - the announcement by the Prime Minister last week that he was pulling the plug on cross party talks about how to respond to Leveson, speculation about the motives of all concerned went into overdrive.
The deal that has now apparently been agreed on implementing a Royal Charter - agreed late into Sunday night - only adds to the intrigue of who has "won" and who “backed down". This has been a game of political brinkmanship and “key messaging” to party faithful, backbench MPs and the political Twitterati. The one group missing has been the Great British Public who seems to have utterly lost interest in this storyline.
From Cameron’s perspective it is actually quite straightforward power politics at play. By surprising everyone last week with his announcement of withdrawal, he was demonstrating that he can still call the shots. He is the Prime Minister, it is his Government. This is crucial at a time when some of his own backbenchers are openly questioning his authority amid rumours about his future leadership
The Government's wider legislative agenda would also have been a factor in the Cameron’s calculation. By bringing matters to a head today he is helping to prevent months of "legislative sabotage" as Labour (especially in the House of Lords) sought attempt after attempt to amend other government bills to implement their preferred Leveson solution.
By announcing the deal this morning before the Government confirmed it, Harriet Harman and Labour are attempting to portray themselves as setting the agenda and the Prime Minister as the man who caved in at the last.
After the latest of late nights it was clearly a race to the email and phone for all sides keen to get their version out. With an alleged 3:30am finish the timing was perfect for leading on Radio 4 with Today – setting the news agenda on this for the day.
So, who did win? Well history is written by the winners we are told. Or in Westminster who gets on the news first. So I guess everyone is now writing their version of the story and claiming victories and a result for truth and justice with the press. The real truth will emerge over the coming weeks and months as the wider political reasons for everyone’s actions become increasingly clear.
One thing is for sure. The general public is losing interest in this and some politicians have sensed that it is time for the political debate to move on. Luckily the Budget on Wednesday will keep us all entertained for the next few months and Leveson will be just another topic for debate in the bars in and around Westminster – again just like Eastenders!