Labour's bid to hijack Hacked Off petition to shackle British Press by implementing Leveson report in fullHacked Off petition wants every word of Leveson's report implementedBoth Ed Miliband and Labour's deputy chairman Tom Watson have urged their Twitter followers to signTom Watson also emailed all party members to mobilise support
01:59 GMT, 3 December 2012
Labour was last night accused of attempting to hijack a petition calling for new laws to shackle the Press.
The petition, launched by the father of Madeleine McCann last week, urges the three party leaders to implement every word of Lord Justice Leveson’s 2,000-page report on press standards.
Set up by the Hacked Off protest group, it has been widely portrayed as non-partisan campaign.
Petition: Gerry McCann, left, and Christopher Jefferies, right, launch the Hacked Off petition, urging the Government to implement all recommendations made by the Leveson Report
But last night it emerged the Labour Party is using its own resources to mobilise support for the petition.
It hopes to force David Cameron to back down on his pledge to protect free speech by shunning Lord Leveson’s call for a state-backed regulator.
Labour’s deputy chairman Tom Watson said the party would ‘bring to bear every resource’ on the issue.
Mr Cameron has grave concerns about state involvement in a regulator and believes the Press should be given the chance to face a tough new regime of independent regulation.
Yesterday it emerged that 2,000 editors are ready to sign up to independent regulation in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
Labour support: Both party leader Ed Miliband and Labour's deputy chairman Tom Watson have told their Twitter followers to sign the campaign and Mr Watson has asked all party members to sign
Red Ed's tweet: Labour leader Ed Miliband urges his followers to sign the petition on Saturday
Lord Hunt, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, dismissed claims that legislation was needed to persuade publishers to join a tougher regulatory system.
The peer, who will take part in talks between the Prime Minister and newspaper editors tomorrow, said five-year rolling contracts would ensure publications could not ‘walk away’ from a new regime.
He said: ‘I have spoken to 120 publishers speaking on behalf of 2,000 editors. They have all told me they will sign up.’
'This (Leveson’s) report is a sloppy elephantine piece of work that relies on nobody having the time to read it before taking sides'
– Ex-Guardian editor Peter Preston
Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday urged his 177,000 Twitter followers to sign the petition.
Mr Watson has been authorised to use Labour’s databases to email all party members telling them to back the petition.
In an extraordinary message, he told them to persuade family and friends to sign up as well, in the hope of forcing the Prime Minister to reverse his ‘betrayal’.
Mr Watson went on: ‘We will bring to bear every resource, call in every promise, rattle every skeleton in every cupboard. This is a step too far by Cameron.’
Making it clear that he sees the petition as a means of launching a Labour Party onslaught on the Prime Minister, Mr Watson continued: ‘Cameron wants to sell out to Rupert Murdoch and powerful press interests because he is scared, and he is weak. But that is why he cannot succeed – because he is weak. And he is wrong.’
No chase: Press Complaints Commission chairman Lord Hunt said no legislation was needed to make newspapers sign up to an independent regulation system as 2,000 editors have already pledged to sign up
Yesterday Peter Preston, former Guardian
editor, weighed into the debate. He warned: ‘Of course, everyone has
been very nice to Lord Justice Leveson. But, in truth, this report is a
sloppy, elephantine piece of work that relies on nobody having the time
to read it before taking sides.’
Tory MP Conor Burns said Labour had made a ‘fatal error of judgment’ in calling for the implementation of the report, which civil liberties campaigners have warned raises serious concerns.
Mr Burns, a member of the Commons culture, media and sport committee, added: ‘It is a huge but characteristic error of judgment on Tom Watson’s part to try and turn a legitimate debate on press regulation into a squalid partisan rant.’
All in law: The petition wants to implement every word of Lord Justice Leveson's 2,000 page report
Fellow Tory committee member Philip Davies said Labour’s involvement would raise questions about the campaign’s independence.
He said: ‘It rather undermines the impression that campaigners want to leave that this is a non-party political movement if Labour party members are being agitated to sign this.’
Hacked Off yesterday boasted that its online petition had been signed by more than 100,000 – although critics have questioned the thoroughness of checks to ensure all signatures are genuine.
A similar petition on the Government’s website, where all names are checked, has been signed by fewer than 5,000.
Hacked Off insisted that the petition remained a ‘cross party’ campaign.
A spokesman said Mr Watson had acted ‘on his own initiative’.
Labour last night announced it will bring forward its own draft legislation before Christmas to implement Lord Leveson’s proposals, although it is backing away from Mr Miliband’s original insistence that the broadcasting regulator Ofcom should oversee a new system of regulation.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller has already ordered officials to draw up a draft Bill, but has warned it will ‘demonstrate our concerns’ that new laws could be amended by MPs to curb free speech.
Labour accused her of ‘bad faith’ and said its own proposals could form the basis of a pincer movement with the Lib Dems to force the legislation on to the statute book.