As we in the publishing sector watch events unfold from the seats reserved for very interested observers, is there anything we can usefully learn or read from the unfolding drama? It would seem unlikely there is not, and there are perhaps three things.
1. Relations between Ministers and Ofcom would appear to be endemically bad. You don't even have to read between the lines of the Michel-wikileaks to see that all is not well in the state of DCMS. The two bodies appear pitted against each other in a stance which is all too familiar to those who have long watched the cautious and sometimes suspicious circling which has gone along with the laborious implementation of the Digital Economy Act (two years and counting). Phrases like "slippage in timetable", "delay" and "passing the blame" have a sonorous resonance. At least it is heartening to learn that it wasn't just us rights holders who have been subject to this frustrating face-off.
2. There is a real danger that the relationship between the private sector and special advisers may, unfairly, come into disrepute. Working through special advisers is absolutely vital (even those groups apparently opposed to lobbying have been known to have these channels on speed dial) but it will be a worrying side effect of the current problem if use of these channels is discouraged. (En passant, by common consent Adam Smith is a guy of high integrity and professionalism. It will be a travesty if his name enters political annals alongside those of defenestrated special advisers who acted with less propriety.) If 'SpAds' could not convey the views of their bosses to interested stakeholders nor, conversely, act as conduits to the private sector, government would not grind to a halt; indeed it would probably gambol along more actively. But that would precisely be the problem. If there is one thing worse than no policy decision it is an ill-informed one. SpAds perform the role of political capillaries: they take the oxygen of real-world private-sector knowledge and expertise and breathe it into the bloodstream of the policy making process. Without this injection of commercial reality Ministers would have a less clear view of the implications of their decisions.
3. As an upshot of the brouha-ha, the Communications Green Paper could be delayed even further. It seems an age ago, but in fact it was only January 2012, that a DCMS minister told a media conference that the Green Paper was imminent, following the drying of its ink. But here are we in May and still no sign. Experienced Whitehall watchers have long known that a civil service spring can run until July so perhaps the elasticity of this timetable should not be surprising. But it could get worse. If the Green Paper is now going to depend on what Leveson thinks about media and Internet regulation then it may not be until the end of the year until it finally emerges.