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.

Getty
Show Hide image

How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.