British business secretary's Murdoch attack hurts coalition

22nd December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's coalition government was under pressure Wednesday after its business secretary was stripped of key powers following his remark that he had "declared war" on media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday told Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable he would no longer have a say in Murdoch's bid to take full control of pay TV giant BSkyB.

This came after Cable told undercover newspaper reporters that he planned to block the 12.0-billion-dollar (9.1-billion-euro) bid by Murdoch's News Corporation for BSkyB.

"You may wonder what is happening with the Murdoch press," Cable told the reporters from the Daily Telegraph, posing as constituents. "I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we're going to win."

EU regulators on Tuesday cleared News Corporation's attempt to buy a majority stake in BSkyB but the deal remains subject to a British regulatory review, which is due to report next week.

In a humiliating blow for one of the government's top ministers, Cable's department was also stripped of a string of other powers although he hung on to his job.

The controversy heaps pressure on Britain's first coalition since World War II, formed after inconclusive elections in May and made up of two parties often regarded as ill-suited political partners.

And there was further evidence of tension Wednesday, as The Telegraph revealed more secret recordings in which Lib Dem ministers voiced criticism of government policy.

In his comments, Cable said that he had blocked the bid "using the powers that I have got. And they are legal powers that I have got.

"I can't politicise it, but for the people who know what is happening, this is a big thing. His whole empire is now under attack. So there are things like that, that being in government... All we can do in opposition is protest."

Cameron's spokesman said Cable's remarks "were totally unacceptable and inappropriate" and the prime minister took swift action."

"Following comments made by Vince Cable to the Daily Telegraph, the prime minister has decided that he will play no further part in the decision over News Corporation's proposed takeover of BSkyB," the spokesman said.

Responsibility for the competition and policy issues relating to media, broadcasting, digital and telecoms sectors would be transferred immediately to the culture secretary, he said.

In a statement, Cable said he fully accepted Cameron's decision, adding: "I deeply regret the comments I made and apologise for the embarrassment that I have caused the government."

Murdoch owns Britain's top-selling daily newspaper, The Sun, which backed Cameron's Conservatives in the elections in May.

A spokesperson for News Corporation had earlier said that it was "shocked and dismayed" by Cable's remarks, adding: "They raise serious questions about fairness and due process."

Telegraph Media Group, the owner of the newspaper, is one of several media organisations which have opposed the BSkyB deal.

Cable had spoken of "constant battles" with Conservative colleagues and there was more evidence Wednesday that the centrist Lib Dems were unhappy in coalition with the centre-right Conservatives.

Three senior Lib Dem ministers condemned a proposal to scrap a child benefit payment for higher rate taxpayers, in comments to undercover reporters from The Daily Telegraph.

Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, said the benefit decision was "blatantly not a consistent and fair thing to do," while Ed Davey, a business minister, declared himself "gobsmacked."

Steve Webb, the pensions minister, said he had written to Chancellor George Osborne to complain about the policy because "the details aren't right."

© 2010 AFP

0 Comments To This Article