The Coalition has “bent over backwards” to keep Vince Cable in Government despite his comments that he had “declared war on Murdoch” over News Corp’s deal to take over BSkyB, writes Gary Gibbon.
Although a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said the comments were “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, Downing Street confirmed that the Business Secretary would remain in his post and in the Cabinet.
However, he will will play no further part in the decision over News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB, and all responsibility for competition and policy issues relating to media, broadcasting, digital and the telecomms sectors has been transferred to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, No 10 said.
Mr Cable said in a statement tonight: “I fully accept the decision of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. I deeply regret the comments I made and apologise for the embarrassment that I have caused the Government.”
In comments revealed by the BBC, the Business Secretary told undercover reporters from The Daily Telegraph that he was “picking my fights”, one of which would be News Corporation’s £7.5bn deal to buy the remaining shares of BSkyB that it does not already own.
He told the reporters, posing as Liberal Democrat voters in his constituency: “I don’t know if you have been following what has been happening with the Murdoch press… I have declared war on Mr Murdoch, and I think we are going to win.”
Saved for the nation - and Strictly
Saved for the nation - and for the Strictly Christmas special too, writes Political Editor Gary Gibbon.
The Coalition has bent over backwards to keep Dr Cable in the team and he will carry on, weakened and forbidden to go near the Murdoch/BSkyB takeover bid. And 70 civil servants wake up to find they're working in a different department (responsiblity for media regulation goes to Culture) to save his skin.
Read more from Channel 4 News on Vince Cable, who has lived to fight another day in the Coalition
The comments on the News Corp and BSkyB deal were leaked and not included in the original Telegraph article, where Mr Cable also declared he could bring down the Government.
I have declared war on Mr Murdoch, and I think we are going to win. Vince Cable
This means Vince Cable would have been the final obstacle in the deal’s progress, as he held a quasi-judicial role in making the decision over whether the takeover bid will be allowed, blocked or subject to strict conditions.
But the disclosure of his private views, revealed by the BBC which has obtained a full version of Mr Cable’s conversation with reporters, made this role impossible to fulfil – and Jeremy Hunt will now take over.
As part of the conversation with the reporters, Mr Cable added: “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… 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.”
A report from media regulator Ofcom on the bid is due by the end of this year, when the Government – now Mr Hunt – will decide whether to refer the deal to the Competition Commission. After getting their response, the final decision over the deal will now lie with Mr Hunt.
Mr Cable’s comments over the News Corp deal follow embarrassing disclosures about the Coalition, made in the same conversation with undercover Daily Telegraph reporters. Mr Cable said he could “bring down the Government” if pushed, by going for the “nuclear option” of resigning.