How Vince avoided Murdoch – an example of appropriate ministerial behaviour

Today’s Guardian carries a report by Patrick Wintour which shows the frustrations of the News Corporation camp as they tried and failed to develop the same sort of close relationship with Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable as they had with Jeremy Hunt and Alex Salmond.

The article outlines several fruitless attempts from senior figures within News Corporation to arrange a meeting with Cable to discuss their proposed takeover of BSkyB. Vince at that time had quasi-judicial responsibility for that decision.

My favourite part of the article is the response of Giles Wilkes, Vince’s Special Adviser, on being asked “when would be good for you?” for a meeting.

“Let us assume it is when a Google of Vince Cable, News International and Sky does not turn anything up. I am sure we are both interested in staying within the proper bounds of conduct.”

Compare and contrast to Alex Salmond’s adviser who was apparently telling Murdoch’s Head of Public Affairs that “he (Salmond) will call Hunt whenever we need him to”.

You can read the article in full here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Along with yesterdays’ revelations, does anyone have an idea as to the ‘Lib Dem MP, former SKY employee with major SKY customer centres in his constituency…” is?
    All credit to Vince Cable on this one, but who is this other individual, so keen to lobby on News International’s behalf?

  • Daniel Henry 25th Apr '12 - 11:44am

    Another +1 for Vince’s reputation. Shame he got caught out by that sting.

  • It doesn’t matter how professional Vince was before he screwed up, he screwed up, and screwed up badly. It’s a shame. But it does negate his behaviour prior to the Telegraph sting. He’s no better than Hunt.

  • Vince is one of the few left standing after recent events: canny and prudent. What is more, he’s been far more right than wrong.

  • Foregone Conclusion 25th Apr '12 - 12:17pm

    I suspect it may be generational as much as anything.

  • Compare and contrast to Alex Salmond’s adviser who was apparently telling Murdoch’s Head of Public Affairs that “he (Salmond) will call Hunt whenever we need him to”.

    They’re simply not comparable. As you stated, “Vince had quasi-judicial responsibility for that decision”. Salmond had no such responsibility or even influence over it. Cable (quite rightly) avoided any chance of his being accused of having done some sort of shady deal, while Salmond was in no position to offer any deal in the first place.

    Even if the claims in the email are accurate (and given that it’s at least a 3rd hand account , we can hardly be sure of that), Salmond is guilty of nothing more than currying favour with NI, which, while distasteful on first principles, is hardly scandalous or dishonest in any way.

  • Foregone Conclusion 25th Apr '12 - 12:25pm

    And what Donnachadh McCarthy said. I was most struck by Paul Marshall’s attitude, which seemed to be that Rupert Murdoch was a wonderfully successful businessman, and therefore deserved all the help possible from government and from himself personally. Does he not despise what Murdoch has helped to do to our political culture and how he has impeded liberalism?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th Apr '12 - 12:25pm

    The “Lib Dem MP” has been unmasked by Stephen Tall as Jim Tolson, then MSP for Dunfermline.

    Willie Rennie spoke about this on Good Morning Scotland – basically saying “where’s the trade?” What was Jim Tolson getting in return? Absolutely nothing. And he was talking about something in which there was a constituency interest.

  • Good on Giles Wilkes.

    However, let’s not over-egg the pudding by pretending that current revelations about Jeremy Hunt’s inappropriate relations with Murdoch retrospectively justify boasting of prejudging a takeover bid.

    This in no way lessens the need for Jeremy Hunt to account for his dealings with Murdoch and for the PM to give a better defence than the one he just proffered at PMQs.

  • Such a shame that Vince let his Special Adviser down….

    I think the thing we need to accept is that Vince was spot on in his feelings for News International, Labour and the Tories have atrocious records with them. Vince had the quasi judicial authority in the case and he blew it by breaching the requirements of holding that authority. I dispute those who state that Vince is no better than Hunt. Vince screwed up trying to do the right thing. It appears Hunt never had any intention of doing so..

    What we are not getting on this site is the proper attack on the Tories in this. Instead we are attacking Labour and the SNP. Unfortunately this will only serve to enforce the views of those who feel the party is being subsumed by the Tories. Whilst I accept Ministers will need to keep a lower profile, I would expect statements from the senior people not on the government payroll questioning Hunt’s ability to continue.

    After all, plenty of Tories called for the head of Vince when he broke the rules….

  • Richard Dean 25th Apr '12 - 12:55pm

    It seems beyond doubt that there should be defined procedures. On one hand a group or company that will be affected by a decision needs to be able to argue its case, and opponents need to be able to see the arguments and present counter-arguments. On the other hand, the decison-maker needs to act, and be seen to be acting, without fear or favour.

  • Alex Sabine 25th Apr '12 - 1:33pm

    Steve, it wasn’t that Vince “screwed up trying to do the right thing”, as if he simply slipped on a banana skin of process. His boast that he had “declared war” on Murdoch showed that he was determined to base his decision about a highly sensitive takeover bid not on the impartial and quasi-judicial basis that his role required but on his personal prejudices. (Indeed if the Guardian’s account of comments by David Laws and Vicky Pryce – that Vince probably hadn’t even read the legal advice – is anything to go by, his stance came as no surprise to those who knew him well.)

    Whether or not you share those prejudices is immaterial. In fact, given that those were his views about Murdoch you could argue that he should have taken particular care to take his quasi-judicial responsibilities seriously. If he couldn’t do that he should have asked to be relieved of responsibility for the decision.

    Anyway, that is history now, Vince suffered the humiliation of having his wings clipped, and I’m sure he’s allowed himself a wry smile or two over current events. Jeremy Hunt now has to account for the plainly inappropriate way in which privileged information was channelled to News Corp. I don’t think his explanation thus far (my special adviser over-stepped the mark) is anywhere near adequate.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 25th Apr '12 - 1:54pm

    I’m wondering why Clegg was so keen to get cover from the Murdoch press for his broken electoral promise on copyright reform. I wouldn’t have thought that the position adopted would have been too hard to defend even without such cover – unless something else was being hidden. I could think of rather more things were Clegg might have felt the need for cover first.

  • Bradley Colmans 25th Apr '12 - 6:25pm

    Vince did not do well, he did the same as Hunt did but from the other point of view. You are meant to judge on what is presented to you not allow personal bias cloud your judgement. In this Vince was wrong and even more wrong for saying it to someone he didnt know. Even if you allow your bias to affect a decision like this, you shouldnt be stupid enough to broadcast it to others. At the very least you have to look as if you are being impartial, even if you arent

  • As Andrew Neal reminded viewers today (while interviewing Ben Bradshaw), the BskyB bid was only made possible in the first place as Labour relaxed the laws on foreign media ownership. So, while labour are making much hay out of the issue, lets remember where the original problem stems from. And why did Labour relax the laws? There was only really one person who was going to benefit and that was their then best mate Rupert Murdoch. I wonder how many of the current Murdoch baiters were sitting MPs when this slipped through?

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