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.