British coalition hit by fresh revelations 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 caused a 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.

The minister for care services, Paul Burstow, was quoted as saying: "I don't want you to trust David Cameron", while local government minister Andrew Stunell said he did not know where Cameron stood on the "sincerity monitor".

They were speaking to undercover reporters posing as constituents who have already caught out Business Secretary and senior Liberal Democrat Vince Cable and caused a major political row.

Cable told the two female reporters 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 forced 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 recorded threatening to "bring the government down" if the centre-left Lib Dems were forced to compromise too much with the centre-right Tories.

Cable, a former chief economist for oil giant Shell, is one of the Lib Dems' few big names but has also been viewed as one of the coalition's unhappiest members because he resents the compromises his party has been asked to make.

Conservatives meanwhile are furious that Cable has been given preferential treatment because of his key role in holding together the coalition.

They point out that when a senior Tory spoke out of line a few weeks ago, Cameron immediately sacked him.

"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," lawmaker Christopher Chope told the BBC.

But Oliver Letwin, the Conservative in charge of formulating government policy, insisted that "deep bonds of trust" had developed in the seven months since the two parties were bound together in an unlikely coalition.

He told The Guardian that the centre-right Conservatives had discovered "a huge amount of policy overlap with the Liberal Democrats", whose politics make them more natural allies for the opposition Labour party.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, has tried to smooth things over, arguing it was no surprise that "there are differences of opinion in a coalition, as there are indeed in all governments".

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

However, the fresh evidence of divisions will only add to the pressure on the government.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Wednesday that 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. After Cable's humiliation, it will now be scrutinised by culture minister Jeremy Hunt.

Hunt has indicated he is broadly supportive to Murdoch, raising questions about whether he is biased in an opposite direction to Cable. However, senior civil servant Gus O'Donnell insisted the minister had not pre-judged the issue.

© 2010 AFP

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