No more Cameron, no more Coulson - and so, perhaps, no more Leveson?

Theresa May’s reshuffle has ushered in an entirely new administration - and the baggage of the old one seems to be retreating into the past

So what, pray, happens when the new culture secretary, Karen Bradley, meets the press? Remember this is, by common consent, a very different Tory government, with its own PM, people and predilections. Memories of Andy Coulson, hacking and Lord Justice Leveson’s mammoth report may – like George Osborne’s monetary targets – soon seem to belong to some distant era. Certainly you can’t see May putting two lumps into Rupert’s Earl Grey and passing the Downing Street biscuits just yet.

But she and her new secretary of state can also cite reasons for moving on (evidence derived from an unlikely source, as it happens). Impress, the would-be press regulator and rival to a dominant Ipso, has commissioned research to decide what newspaper standards should be laid down via its new, supposedly independent code.

More than 2,000 interviews, plus focus-group workshops, later, pollsters BritainThinks report that “spontaneous engagement with the issue of press standards is low”; that the “proportion of [the] public having no opinion on the issues is very high”; that “51% can’t name a single positive contribution that news publications make”; that “42% aren’t able to name anything news publications might do that are wrong or unfair”; and that “41% aren’t able to name a single standard or principle that should apply to news publications”.

By the way, “none of the focus group participants referenced Leveson and many declared it was an issue they had never really thought about … although phone-hacking was mentioned by a few participants”. And if you wish to cite further research then, according to the Ipsos Mori Issues Tracker for May 2016, press standards and conduct is not in the top 36 issues facing the country – “which means it is a less salient issue than constitutional reform, Aids, or foot and mouth”.

Somehow you can’t see Bradley plunging eagerly into these deep waters of indifference and ignorance. Somehow the moment for sharp-elbowed reform has passed. Somehow it feels like time to turn a page.

■ And so the Right Hon Michael Gove MP becomes secretary of state for well-remunerated columns, able to move swiftly to fill the great hole in our national life (and his bank balance) left by Boris Johnson’s transition from Daily Telegraph op-ed page to international glory. Also available for occasional thunderers in the Times, Stephen Glover holiday replacements in the Mail and a new weekly feature – This Blessed Plot – in the Bun. It’s an ill wind that never blows talented once and future journalists any good.

Contributor

Peter Preston

The GuardianTramp

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