ANOTHER bunch of journalists, this time from the Mirror Group, have found police on their doorsteps at dawn.

The Sun has meanwhile apologised to Gordon Brown for accusing the former Prime Minister of saying something he didn't say in the row over his child's medical records. In the public's mind, the British press goes on confusing beacons of liberty with spent, guttering candles.

David Cameron, spinning like a top from one "deeply held conviction" to another, has decided the regulation of the press needs no statutory underpinning. It so happens the embattled Mr Cameron is right about that, but his likely motives leave something to be desired. He does not want politicians involving themselves in regulating journalism. Good for him. But the Prime Minister arrives at this position because he knows, better than most, what certain employers of journalists have to say on the subject. While Rupert Murdoch dines with Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and others besides, the old game continues. Downing Street's first among tenants looks on in dismay.

Let us return, then, as Tories used to say, to basics. Sections of the London tabloid press have been accused of heinous offences. Some individuals have been found guilty of criminal behaviour. Aside from cases in which police officers have been corrupted, why was any of this beyond the reach of the criminal law? Why was Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry actually necessary?

Chiefly because there was a political need. The parties that had spent so much time cultivating their own, near-corrupt relationships with certain press groups responded to public opinion and took up the shining sword of justice. In part, they were restoring the balance of power, they believed, between politics and media. In part – and who can blame them? – they were settling scores.

At the heart of it all, nevertheless, there was a pretence. This was the fiction that better press regulation was somehow a remedy for criminal acts. So state it plainly: Milly Dowler's mobile phone was not hacked because the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) was toothless. Crime is the business of the police.

Undaunted, Lord Justice Leveson set off into the moral maze and emerged with a set of proposals. The political contest then turned on arguments over who would give the fullest enactment, if any, to the judge's findings. Mr Cameron bid high to begin with – Leveson would be enacted if the report was not "bonkers" – but found himself trumped at every turn, not least by the relentless Hacked Off campaign.

"Statutory underpinning" became the fashionable phrase. Any regulator must be entirely independent, it was agreed, not fashioned by statute, influenced by Parliament, susceptible to Government, or an industry poodle. But to ensure that it would not go the way of the PCC, such a body would have to be overseen. And the watcher watching the watchers would need a bit of statute.

Nothing to worry about. Politicians who promise to leave well enough alone always keep their word. Statutes guaranteeing the independence of watchdogs are never altered. Nor would such a device amount to the licensing of journalism. If, that is, the free and independent press agreed freely and independently to Leveson's supervised regulator.

Ed Miliband saw an opportunity in all of this. When Lord Justice Leveson's report appeared, Mr Cameron hesitated. Now Labour and Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats have edged towards an alliance – we'll call it a straw in the wind – for the sake, they say, of the tabloids' victims. We still await to hear how any regulator would make any difference in criminal matters, or to the relationships between parties and proprietors. Leveson has become that worst of cliches, a political football.

Mr Cameron hankers after a royal charter, removing the need for a change to statute. By this means, "exemplary" costs and damages could be imposed on any newspaper group refusing to sign up to a press regulation body.

Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg support this, but want the charter "underpinned" while providing more guarantees for the regulator's independence. They also want to deny the press any say in the composition of the regulatory body. Since Mr Clegg is Lord President of the Council, with a veto over any charter, Labour and the LibDems will be able to stop Mr Cameron in his tracks.

In Scotland, save for one set of allegations and charges involving a branch office of the News of the World, there have been no scandals. Lurid reputations have not, on the whole, been enjoyed and press regulation has attracted no controversy. Undaunted, the Scottish Government decided last year to discover whether Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations could be given force.

Lord McCluskey, two lawyers and two journalists, have found plenty to chew on. Charged explicitly with coming up with a statutory underpinning for regulation, they have decided to tread where Lord Justice Leveson hesitated. Regulation would be the usual virtuous thing – "independent, non-statutory ... of a character to be proposed by the press" – but no newspaper would be allowed to escape its jurisdiction. Press freedom would no longer include the freedom to refuse regulation.

The McCluskey team see no problem with this. They fail to see why journalism should be any different from trade unionism, churches, or the judiciary. They argue that Leveson involves "a comparatively light addition to the legal regulation already applying to the press", but "have little confidence that the voluntary 'opt in or opt out' model proposed by Leveson would work".

If the proposals were to be accepted, in other words, there would be a common, state-sanctioned jurisdiction for anyone exercising free speech in print or electronic media. Additionally, should a newspaper behave badly, it would be "for the legislature to ensure that all those who might, in future, perpetrate such abuses are subject to the jurisdiction of the independent regulatory body". This is licensing, however benign. Whether either the regulator or the "recognition body" keeping an eye on the regulator is founded on statute is neither here nor there. Safeguards can be piled on by the paragraph and not a word among them will inhibit a future Parliament's right to amend the duties of the regulator's regulator when a press outrage – defined by a politician – is detected, and when jurisdiction is universal.

Schemes at Westminster to introduce aggravated damages pose bigger challenges to Scots law than the abuses the McCluskey proposal is designed to address. That is simply because there is no record of such abuses. But there is, clearly, a political will at Holyrood to become involved in an issue born of the London press.

Westminster manouevring over Leveson is one good reason why politicians should not be in the business of press regulation. Self-interest is the motivating force on all sides. The idea that there can ever be a truly independent body with any connection to the state is meanwhile one of the consoling myths of British life.

Lord McCluskey's report reminds us that no-one is above the law. Even the most feral of tabloids have never tried to deny it. What is denied is the idea that politicians can be trusted to safeguard the free flow of news and opinion. Why did the Daily Telegraph have to break a few rules – and break them it certainly did – to bring us the tale of MPs' allowances and expenses?

And who, by the way, will choose these regulators if Mr Miliband has his way? Who will then select the individuals who will certify the work of regulation? I can guess.