This week a committee of unelected men and women will meet in private, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, to decide what freedoms you and I should enjoy.
Specifically, they will decide whether or not, for the first time in 300 years, the state should have a role in regulating what, until now, has been a free press.
The British press is intrusive, arrogant, vicious, unfair, unbalanced and generally infuriating. And that is exactly how it should be.
Politicians and those in positions of power should be wary of the press. We should worry about what will be reported about us and our actions. We should shudder on a Friday night when a reporter from a Sunday tabloid calls us at home to ask for "your side of the story".
There are millions of people living in parts of this planet who would die for the experience of living in a country where the press is unafraid of the government, where journalists make their own decisions about what to publish without having to look over their shoulder at a regulator comprised of so-called "lay persons".
There was a time when parties of the Left would have been first in line to defend press freedom, with all its drawbacks and imperfections. Freedom of expression is always the first thing to go when dictatorship looms. The Labour Party has a proud tradition of offering support and solidarity to oppressed peoples throughout the world, and part of that solidarity is support for a press unencumbered by state rules or supervision.
But this week my party will instead be urging support for an illiberal system of regulation that is totally alien to our country and our way of life. In doing so, Ed Miliband may make himself popular, but he will not make himself right.
Some of the anger at the UK press is undoubtedly justified, and I share a lot of it. There has never been a time in any of our lives when politicians weren't subjected to intrusion and misrepresentation by the press. And there are plenty of "civilians" who have an even greater right to a sense of grievance: the parents of murdered or disappeared children, the innocent suspects in high-profile murder cases, celebrities whose only real crime is to be famous.
None of us wants to see innocent people aggressively doorstepped by nosey journalists asking intrusive questions while a photographer stands at a safe remove recording the incident… unless, of course, the person being confronted is a politician or businessman accused of corruption. No-one can justify the vilification on the front page of a national newspaper of people who have been charged with no crime… unless the men who appeared under the Daily Mail's headline "Murderers!" had not subsequently been charged with the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.
And it goes without saying that phone hacking, the practice that led directly to the closure of one of the newspapers involved in its commissioning, is and must remain a criminal offence. And that's the point: criminals risked jail in order to steal private details from private citizens and to sell that information illegally for cash. No amount of "regulation" then or now could possibly have prevented that happening; if the law and the threat of a jail cell wasn't enough to deter the culprits, regulation certainly won't be enough.
I understand and sympathise with Ed Miliband's call for "decency" from what used to be called Fleet Street, especially in the wake of last week's unedifying row between him and the Daily Mail over his late father. But the state should have no role whatever in forcing whatever its definition of "decency" is on a free press. At first glance the proposals in parliament's Royal Charter seem reasonable enough. But once politicians take even a modest and arms-length role in regulating anything, who's to say that arm won't get shorter over time, the grip tighter? After all, who would have most to gain?
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