- that would have been embarrassing enough even if the lady was what she was purporting to be, a LibDem member and supporter, although one whom Cable had apparently not met before, and to whom he nevertheless felt free to unburden himself of indiscrete comments (given his specific role in government). It turns out that she is a Telegraph reporter, who very probably is not a LibDem supporter and/or member, playing a part to flatter an elderly gentleman. One can just imagine the fluttering eyelashes which accompanied that simpering giggling we hear in the recording, with her pretending to be only vaguely aware of moves by Murdoch's interests to increase their BSkyB shareholding. It is cringe-worthy and one is tempted to feel sympathy for the predicament Cable got himself into. He was well and truly had! But he has only himself to blame.
I share what seem to be Cable's views of Rupert Murdoch and News International, the media conglomerate which he dominates and which various of his children now help to run on his behalf. Some people feel, and I am amongst them, that Murdoch and his commercial interests dominate too much of the UK media already, although it has to be said that the immediate subject exercising Cable (the precise shareholdings in BSkyB) is not really, in my view, terribly critical. I understand Murdoch's interests already control something like 61 per cent of the shares, which already gives him effective control, so increasing that is not likely to change massively his ability to influence how the satellite broadcaster operates, even if full control will presumably mean that the views of [the current] minority shareholders would no longer have to be taken into account. However, whatever I or Cable (more relevantly) may think of Murdoch and his organisation, it is imperative that the matter be dealt with by the regulatory authorities and government in an impartial, objective way. Vince Cable has plainly fallen very far short of what his job as Business Secretary requires - so it was inevitable that responsibility for this decision, at least, be removed from him.
Now we come onto some of the issues flowing from this:
- should Cable [have been allowed by Prime Minister Cameron to] remain in the Government and the Cabinet;
- the difference in 'punishment' meted out to Cable (from the LibDem wing of the coalition) and that meted out to Lord Young (a Conservative Peer and adviser to the Government) for his indiscrete [but true] comments a few weeks ago;
- the motives of the Telegraph for mounting this kind of 'sting' operation.
It seems clear that the only reason Cable has been allowed to 'survive' in Government, albeit with curtailed responsibilities, is because to eject him would badly destabilise the Coalition (perhaps even cause it to collapse) and risk making a martyr of him on the Coalition back-benches, with less constraint upon his ability to express his own [pretty well-known and strongly-held] views from outside the Cabinet. I can't say I'm exactly in favour of the Coalition, but have accepted it was a necessary and desirable alternative to the risk of the LibDems forming a similar arrangement with the Labour party; however, if strategically the collapse of the Coalition led to another election sooner than might otherwise be the case and it was thought the Conservatives might increase their representation as a result, then it would be worth it to get rid of Cable. It would be a risky option, though, and it is not even certain that this would be desired by David Cameron, although I have no real way of knowing what his views on this [or any other] matter might be. No such risk to the Coalition was posed by jettisoning Lord Young in a humiliatingly-public way. Raw politics is a ruthless business and whatever else one may think of David Cameron it is clear he possesses the ability to be ruthless when required (there have been earlier examples and there will probably be more).
The motives of the Telegraph are not entirely clear to me, however. The newspaper was behind the earlier 'scoop' involving MPs' expenses and this was much more clear-cut; they were correctly exposing MPs who had abused their position to take public money to which they were not entitled in whole or in part so they performed a genuine public service. In this case, however, little in what Cable was revealed to have said could come as any surprise - his views are pretty well-known on a variety of topics. Moreover the Telegraph in this instance did not simply report on a story, it created it by conducting a 'sting' operation. Admittedly it did expose the potential for partiality in the way business decisions might be made by Cable, but I think the possibility that Murdoch might be thwarted in his desire to increase his shareholding in BSkyB has been lessened, not increased, as a result of this incident. One is forced to consider the possiblity that the whole driver of the Telegraph's actions is designed to desatbilise either Mr Cable's position within the Coalition, or the Coalition itself. It is no secret that many Conservatives (some of whom are MPs, plus a significant proportion of grass-roots Conservatives) remain deeply-opposed to the Coalition with the LibDems and believe too much was given away, in terms of policy direction, to achieve it.
As I've already written above, I'm not particularly happy with having a Coalition either, but I do recognise that it was a [and perhaps the only realistic] response to the election results in May 2010. We have only just managed to get rid of a hated (and that is not too strong a word) Labour government and I would be horrified if anything were done which might increase the possibility of an early return of these incompetents to power. Surely this cannot be what the Telegraph is aiming for? Or is it really just a cynical journalistic ploy to get a story, at any cost, and perhaps increase circulation a little?
I doubt if we've seen the last of this story or further 'sting' operations of this kind. I hope the Telegraph has not contributed to the weakening of the free exchange of views in this country, which depends on mutual trust between individuals, whether they are politicians, or journalists or just ordinary people, all of whom must have a right to be able to express their private feelings, however explosive, free of the fear that they will be plastered across the media the next day.