Tough decision for PM when Leveson report released

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The Prime Minister set up the judge-led public inquiry into press standards 18 months ago. Photo: PA Wire

Some MPs are not surprised by the front page of the Mail on Sunday today.

Five days before Lord Justice Leveson releases his recommendations on press regulation, the newspaper claims the Prime Minister will defy the judge if, as expected, he pushes for state regulation of the press.

It's a big issue which will come to a head on Thursday - and is likely to mean the Press Complaints Commission will no longer exist in its current form.

18 months after David Cameron set up the judge-led public inquiry into press standards, following claims reporters had hacked the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the Prime Minister faces a tough decision.

Does he implement Leveson's recommendations even if the report pushes for state regulation?

Or, does he back away from such a heavy-handed approach and seek a lighter form of press control?

If he chooses the latter option, Mr Cameron risks undermining the very public inquiry he set up.

Lord Justice Leveson releases his recommendations on press regulation on Thursday. Credit: PA Wire

But the Prime Minister is not short on advice from senior members of his own party.

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has made clear he thinks state regulation would threaten the freedom of the press.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said today he would always "err on the side of press freedom."

And even though he is in India this weekend, Boris Johnson said, "if you want to keep the gutters of public life clean, you need a gutter press."

Given all three party leaders have now said the status quo is not an option, it puts Mr Cameron in a tricky position.

But a growing group of Conservative MPs are now calling for stronger controls on the press which could include a "dab of statutory regulation".

Around 70-80 Tories think we're facing a once in a generation opportunity to control the worst excesses for the press - and they are not getting stern phone calls from Downing Street as a result.

In fact, this group gives Mr Cameron a potential way out - should there be disagreement in Parliament about how best to proceed.

If the Prime Minister does opt for a tough approach - this group of Tories will ensure he won't be defeated in the Commons (the majority of Labour and Lib Dems MPs back statutory control of the press.)

That just leaves the reaction of the press itself. Newspapers believe any controls on their activities will hamper their ability to seek the truth. They argue a free society demands a free press.

If the Prime Minister backs regulation backed up by the law, Fleet Street is likely to give him a very uncomfortable ride.

All the way to the next election.