Business secretary Vince Cable told two Telegraph reporters posing as members of his constituency that he had ‘declared war on Rupert Murdoch”.
The revelation was made this afternoon by BBC business editor Robert Peston who used his blog to detail how The Daily Telegraph left these comments out of a story it broke this morning in which its reporters stung Cable into admitting he had the ‘nuclear option’ of resigning from The Cabinet.
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Peston wrote that he’d been passed a full transcript of a clandestine recording taken during a surgery in Cable’s Twickenham constituency by a whistleblower ‘who is upset that the Telegraph chose to omit these remarks”.
The BBC business editor said the extracts passed to him were not even included in a transcript published on the Telegraph’s website this morning under the heading “the full transcript”.
Peston claims the revelation about Murdoch could bring down the Coalition. The details of Cable’s additional comments emerged after David Cameron and Nick Clegg used a joint press conference to play down his earlier remarks suggesting that he could quit the Coalition if he was “pushed too far” by the Tories.
Peston highlights a section of the transcript given to him in which Cable tells the reporters:
“I am picking my fights, some of which you may have seen, some of which you may haven’t seen.
“And I don’t know if you have been following what has been happening with the Murdoch press, where I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win”.
The Telegraph has since published a story online detailing the revelations made to its undercover reporters, saying that Cable outlined his private animosity for Rupert Murdoch and indicated that he ‘would seek to block Mr Murdoch from taking over BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster that he already partially owns.”
Murdoch’s News Corporation was today give the greenlight by the European Commission – on competition grounds – to take control of the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not own in a £7.5bn deal.
However, the final decision on whether the deal can be completed rests with Cable, who in his capacity as business secretary can veto the deal on media plurality grounds after receiving a complaint about the planned takeover from several leading media businesses in the UK.
Peston (and now also the Telegraph) are reporting that Cable told the paper’s two reporters that he has blocked the deal:
‘I didn’t politicise it, because it is a legal question, but he [Mr Murdoch] is trying to take over BSkyB, you probably know that,’the Business Secretary said. ‘He has minority shares â€¦ And he wants a majority. And a majority-control would give him 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 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 â€¦ All we can do in opposition is protest.”
These previously unreported comments from Cable could raise questions over if he can correctly act as the person with whom rests then final decision on whether BSkyB deals should go ahead.
A News Corp spokeswoman told Press Gazette:
‘News Corp is shocked and dismayed by reports of Mr Cable’s comments. They raise serious questions about fairness and due process.”
A further sub-plot was raised by The Guardian’s Michael White, who speculated that Cable ‘might well be within his rights to find a means to sue or report the paper for breach of parliamentary privilege – which the sting surely was in interfering with his duties as Twickenham’s MP”.
However, White added a significant caveat: ‘Politicians have long been cowed and rarely take such steps unless the case is watertight and then some.”