OK. I’ll admit it. I try to do something at conference every year which I can then show to my friends on BBC Parliament. My octogenarian parents in Cornwall are usually tickled pink to see me, even if no one else is.
This year, I seized upon the opportunity of the Nick Clegg Q&A. I missed the deadline for the question submissions, but a couple of questions were being taken for each subject from the floor. So I just had to think of a question on the relevant topics. The first topic was energy/climate change and I had a question ready and put my hand up. But Nick didn’t look to my side of the hall.
Fortunately, the next topic was the press, a subject on which I have done a bit of homework. So this time I stood up and put my hand right up, so Nick spotted me and I asked my question:
I’m a total fan of the Leveson report. I’ve even read some of it. I applaud you for putting steel into the government’s determination to pass through the Royal Charter. But we are left with the situation where the press are forming their own body (outside of the Royal Charter). I think a couple of odd gazettes have signed up for the Royal Charter but it is unlikely that a press complaints body will be formed under it. So one has to ask the question: What the heck is the point of the Royal Charter? Is it a lame duck?
In his answer, Nick said, no, it isn’t a lame duck. He explained what Leveson proposed, calling it “small l liberal” and roundly rejecting claims that the proposals amount to state control of the press. At the end he said that “we should just let the Royal Charter run” and “allow the system of incentives to do their work”.
Actually, the process of asking the question and listening to the answer has caused a penny to drop in my mind, based on Nick’s thinking. Even if no one signs up for the Royal Charter system, it is still doing its job. That is because it is already, no doubt, causing editors to pause for thought before abusing their freedom. They know that if they do abuse their freedom and lose a subsequent court case, they will receive large damages because of not being in a body recognised by the Royal Charter.