Only one winner in the battle for Number 10: The press

Research by Annabel Burr

Before long, the UK will have a new Prime Minister.

As the leading two contenders scrap for the votes of Conservative Party members, we’ve looked into their records on the press.

Press freedom & accountability

Politicians love to talk about how much they support press freedom.  But the reality is that precious few of them can claim to have backed up their words with actions.

Liz Truss, for example, tweeted that “A free press is vital for a free country” in January 2018.  However, she did so as she registered her opposition to new laws proposed to protect regulated newspapers from paying excessive costs when defending media claims – provisions which would have significantly enhanced the freedom of the press in the UK.

She voted in favour of the very same laws in 2013.

Rishi Sunak, on the other hand, was recently criticised after his campaign team reportedly excluded a Guardian journalist from his launch event.

More damningly, Sunak recently said that he planned to repeal the same costs-shifting laws which Truss had attacked back in 2018.

Press & political corruption

Both Truss & Sunak were reported to have attended a recent Birthday party for Rupert Murdoch. 

Neither appear to have declared their attendance at this event or made any public comment on whether they spoke to Mr Murdoch & what they discussed.

Transparency releases also show that Sunak has enjoyed a number of private meetings with Murdoch, News UK’s Rebekah Brooks, and Sun editor Victoria Newton over the last couple of years.  The New European observed,

On the same day [Sunak] met with Newton in July, her paper noted: “what a relief that the chancellor has got his head screwed on.”

Byline Times also reported on meetings with Telegraph editor Chris Evans and the Financial Times’ CEO John Ridding.

In fact, the Government’s own data suggests that Sunak met with at least 22 different newspapers editors & executives in January – March 2022 alone.  No records of what they discussed have been published.

Truss’ department don’t even appear to have released data on her meetings yet.

Both Sunak and Truss voted down proposals for an inquiry into police and press corruption, in the style of Leveson Part Two.

So much for the party of law and order.

What has happened to the Conservative Party?

There was a time when the Conservative Party was associated with upholding the rule of law and Parliamentary sovereignty.

For thousands of Conservative Party members, and many MPs, it still is.

But the two candidates for PM served up by the Parliamentary Party have shoddy records on both: voting to turn a blind eye to allegations of corruption and criminality in debates on Leveson Part Two, meeting media proprietors in secret, and ceding to the interests of the press instead of asserting Parliament’s role of representing the public.

It says a lot about our political culture that only those politicians willing to sell out the interests of the public in favour of those of the press are likely to succeed.

Whomever becomes Prime Minister in September, it’s already clear that the real winners will be the press.

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