The Leveson issue eclipses all else

On one level, George Osborne's Autumn Statement has been business as usual for the Government this week.

 John Woodcock: 'Big announcements are going to be obscured by Leveson until the question of regulating the press is resolved.'
John Woodcock: 'Big announcements are going to be obscured by Leveson until the question of regulating the press is resolved.'

The Treasury has been determined to pitch commentators the dubious line that the PR disaster of the last Budget was not the fault of its unpopular measures but was instead caused by loose-lipped Liberal Democrat ministers who spilt the beans on key steps too early.

So we were treated to the same softening-up exercise from Osborne for growth forecasts to be downgraded yet again, leaving the Government’s pledge to balance the books by 2015 in tatters.

As the targets they set on taking office fall by the wayside, David Cameron and his Chancellor have locked on to a classic risk message: ‘Yes, it’s bloody awful, but that lot would make it even worse.’

The steady rise in economic competence ratings for Labour suggest that Ed Balls’ change message – ‘the medicine isn’t working, let’s try something better’ – is gaining traction with the public.

While there is a long way to go to win the public’s trust on the economy, both sides know this is a vital interim battle. Yet big announcements in the world of politics, such as the Autumn Statement this week, are going to be obscured by Leveson until the question of what to do about regulating the press is resolved. The issue may not make the front pages every day but it will continue to dominate relations between politicians and the press.

In the past, chancellors have often called Fleet Street editors on Budget day to stress key messages. If those calls happened this week, how long before the editors in question turned the conversation to the issue they care about above all else?

Such a conversation might be more straightforward, if more confrontational, between editors and Ed Miliband. The Labour leader has decided to do what he believes is right on Leveson in the full knowledge that it sets him at odds with many who filter his message to the public. Voters may well see through attacks and give him credit for sticking to his guns.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown

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