Cable: “I have declared war on Murdoch”

<em>Telegraph</em> report omitted explosive detail in recorded conversation with the Business Secret

Today's news has been dominated by Vince Cable's indiscreet remarks to two undercover Telegraph reporters. But it appears that the newspaper's report this morning omitted a key section of the Business Secretary's tirade, in which he said he has "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch, a reference to the legal proceedings to stop the media tycoon from gaining a majority stake in BSkyB.

A whistleblower, reportedly annoyed that the newspaper chose not to publish this section of the conversation, passed the full transcript to Robert Peston, who publishes the relevant sections on his BBC blog:

I am picking my fights, some of which you may have seen, some of which you may haven't seen.

And I don't know if you have been following what has been happening with the Murdoch press, where I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win.

He goes on to discuss Murdoch's £7.5bn bid to buy out the 61 per cent of BSkyB that his media company News Corporation does not already own. Crucially, Cable has the final say over whether this takeover should be blocked, because of its effect on consumer choice. He told the undercover reporters:

Cable: "Well I did not politicise it, because it is a legal question . . . But he [Mr Murdoch] is trying to take over BSkyB – you probably know that."

Reporter: "I know vaguely."

Cable: "With considerably enhanced . . ."

Reporter: "I always thought that he had BSkyB with Sky anyway?"

Cable: "No, he has minority shares and he wants a majority – and a majority control would give them a massive stake.

"I have blocked it using the powers that I have got and they are legal powers that I have got. I can't politicise it but from the people that know what is happening this is a big, big thing.

"His whole empire is now under attack . . . So there are things like that we do in government, that we can't do . . . all we can do in opposition is protest."

As Peston points out, these comments will make it very difficult for Cable to make the final decision on whether the deal should proceed – News Corporation is bound to question his impartiality, and would indeed have legal grounds to do so.

The options open to Cable appear to be to hand the case to another minister, to take a different post in cabinet, or to resign from the cabinet altogether. But boasting in this way to two strangers shows reckless behaviour that would under ordinary circumstances be looked on severely by a party leader.

It's also worth noting that the suppression of this information by the Telegraph is potentially problematic. The newspaper opposes News Corp's proposed takeover of BSkyB, and is now open to the charge of suppressing the information for commercial reasons – because publishing it will make it harder for Cable to block the deal.

Despite the best efforts of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to downplay the Cable incident at their press conference today (before this twist emerged) the story does not look as if it is going to disappear easily.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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