Prepare for weeks of vilification of Leveson and the lampooning of his position as the voice of censorship. We are already seeing that when it comes to the struggle for power and the capacity for dominance over the State and its ideology, the methods are ruthless, the lies are vicious, the cries of the victims and the mistreated count for very little. Yet the counters stacked against a vengeful and self-obsessed press are also formidable. First, never under-estimate the force of public opinion. Some 70% have made clear that, whilst ensuring freedom of the press, they nevertheless want a strong independent and proactive watchdog with the power to protect the public against abuse. Cameron has previously pledged to provide this; whether he can now afford to renege on this to placate an unreconstructed Tory Right is far from certain. Second, the Right-wing press diehards, all the usual suspects, are now competing to satisfy the Leveson principles – without the statutory underpinning. Whether this fractious cabal can actually agree – including Dacre and Desmond for example – on a common platform seems open to considerable doubt. And third, there’s the balance of power in the Commons.
Labour is unequivocally united behind the Leveson proposals. The LibDems seem also, for once, unambiguously behind a principle which has been well enunciated by their leader, and the strong likelihood remains that, if it comes to a vote, they will on this issue be prepared to defy the Tories. In that case Labour and LibDems combined have 309 votes and the Tories 303, leaving 38 from the minor parties. The strong evidence from yesterday’s sitting in the Commons was that the nationalists are very much in favour of Leveson. Cameron also seems to have accepted that any division on this issue should be a free vote. That would make it even easier for the 40 or so Tory MPs who have publicly declared their support for Leveson to vote in accordance with their convictions. Ed Miliband has promised a vote before the end of January at latest or even before Xmas if the government drags its feet in response to Leveson.
Even that, though, is not the end of the story. The Tories claim that a vote on an Opposition Day motion would only be advisory. The authority for that view is highly questionable, and Cameron has not taken that view in the past. When he knew he would be defeated if he didn’t support the withdrawal of Murdoch’s BSkyB, he backed off rather than lose the vote and claim its just advisory. On the other hand Cameron recently lost the vote on the EU budget, but chose simply to ignore it. His chances of getting away with such a tactic this time round seem vanishingly small.