Fresh revelations hit British coalition after Murdoch row

23rd December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's coalition government was hit by fresh evidence of internal tensions Thursday from a newspaper sting that has already caused a major row over a minister's unguarded remarks about Rupert Murdoch.

The Daily Telegraph published new remarks by Liberal Democrats serving in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led government, in which they openly question the premier's sincerity and say he cannot be trusted.

They were speaking to undercover reporters in a sting that has already caught out Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable and caused a major political row earlier this week.

Cable told two female reporters posing as constituents that he had "declared war" on Murdoch over a bid by the media mogul's News Corporation to take control of pay TV company BSkyB.

The remarks emerged as British regulators mull the takeover deal, and caused Cameron to remove Cable from any role in reviewing the bid. The prime minister also stripped him of powers over media, telecom and broadcasting firms.

In the same sting, Cable was also recorded threatening to "bring the government down" if the centre-left Lib Dems were forced to compromise too much with the centre-right Tories.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, tried to smooth things over, saying that Cable's remarks -- and unguarded comments by other Lib Dems recorded by the Telegraph -- were a normal part of coalition politics.

However, fresh evidence of divisions Thursday will only add to the pressure on the government, which formed after a general election in May.

According to the Telegraph, the minister in charge of care services, Paul Burstow, told the reporters: "I don't want you to trust David Cameron."

Andrew Stunell, the local government minister, also said he did not know where the prime minister stood on the "sincerity monitor".

Meanwhile David Heath, the deputy leader of the House of Commons, said finance minister George Osborne had "the capacity to get up one's nose" and, as a millionaire, did not appreciate how austerity measures were affecting people.

Cameron also comes from a wealthy background and is sensitive to the issue, which the opposition Labour party has tried to exploit as the coalition imposes widespread spending cuts to help tackle Britain's huge budget deficit.

Cable is one of the Lib Dems' few well-known personalities but has also been viewed as one of the coalition's unhappiest members because of the compromises his party has been asked to make in power.

Speaking after his candid remarks were published, Clegg attempted to play down suggestions of divisions within the government.

He said Cable's comments had been "very unfortunate" but added: "I think now Vince and the government can move on and that is the end of it."

Clegg also brushed off unguarded comments by other Lib Dem ministers, saying that it was no suprise that "there are differences of opinion in a coalition, as there are indeed in all governments".

Cameron backed his efforts to calm the storm, telling reporters Wednesday: "Look at the bigger picture -- this government is delivering in terms of the real problems the country faces."

However, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said the revelations showed the coalition was "a sham".

News Corporation's bid for the 61 percent of BSkyB that it does not already own was approved by EU regulators this week and will now be scrutinised by culture minister Jeremy Hunt, who has indicated he is broadly supportive.

But some Conservatives believe Cable should have been sacked over the row.

"When we get into the new year, the prime minister will have to assess whether propping up the Liberal Democrats is in the long-term best interests of the Conservative Party and the country," MP Christopher Chope told the BBC.

© 2010 AFP

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