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Tabloid breakup? Cameron and Clegg on the skids

David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the leaders of Britain's two-party coalition government, are at odds over the changes to Britain's press regulation system recommended by Lord Leveson.

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Talks between the leaders of Britain’s main parties will now begin, although reaching cross-party consensus is going to be formidably difficult. Potentially, a coalition of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and others – including dozens of rebel Tory MPs – could attempt to steer a new press law into being next year, although whether such an alliance could hold is in doubt.

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Professor Steven Fielding, director of the Centre for British Politics and professor of political history in the School of Politics at the University of Nottingham, said that Cameron and Clegg had clearly been trying to reconcile their differences.

“They have tried not to turn it into a big drama for the coalition, but I don’t know if they are going to be ale to manage that. There are people on either side, and particularly people on Cameron’s backbenches, who want to turn it into a crisis because they don’t want to be in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.”

Differences illuminated 

The issue has illuminated ideological differences between the governing parties. Although Clegg himself is on the more libertarian wing of his party, many Liberal Democrat MPs and a sizeable bulk of its members are social democrats at ease with government intervention.

The party, and others, may also be reflecting a significant degree of public taste for sections of the press to have their “feet held to the flames,” according to Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism and director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University.

He adds that one factor may be that many of the more high-profile allegations of phone-hacking centered on the News of the World, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. “The Lib Dems and Vincent Cable, the government’s business secretary and deputy leader of the party, have long been very sceptical of Murdoch and that may be important.”

The Conservative Party meanwhile is more likely to be the home to laissez-faire thinkers guided by the principle that less government is better. Critics of the Tories have also pointed to the closeness of successive leaders of the party to press barons – particularly Murdoch – although his newspapers backed the Labour Party under Tony Blair in the 1990s.

Even so, adds Professor Fielding, the issue is a potentially very difficult one for Cameron, given the extent of public horror at some of the revealations about the behavior of British tabloids.

“It will be very interesting to see how the polls reflect on this, because I suspect that by standing against Leveson – and perhaps with good reasons like they ones he has set out – that David Cameron will be seen as standing against the parents of Milly Dowler and standing with Rupert Murdoch."

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