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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vince Cable and an issue of trust

I am the last person to be preaching about speaking in haste and repenting in leisure and I do not intend to start here. However, there is no doubt that Vince Cable was surprisingly naive in allowing himself to be drawn into giving an opinion, even privately, on his quasi-judicial role as arbiter on the future of Sky and the Murdoch media empire. Cameron and Clegg were absolutely right to take that responsibility off him. They had no choice.

The role of the Daily Telegraph in this was far from honourable however. They went out of their way to entrap Ministers, who admittedly should know better, in giving private views that may undermine the Coalition Government. They did so by pretending to be people they were not and by surreptitiously recording each encounter.

Their tactics may be legal and legitimate, but they are hardly ethical. They have undermined the position of trust that needs to exist between journalists and politicians to ensure that there is proper scrutiny of both government and opposition. Some may argue that this relationship was far too cosy and they may be right, however other media organisations will feel a backlash from these tactics, something they may not be happy about.

What is worse is the sheer hypocrisy of the Daily Telegraph in suppressing the most newsworthy aspect of their story because it was not in their business interests. What they have succeeded in doing (admittedly with Vince's help) is to ensure that the Minister least sympathetic to Murdoch will no longer be taking the decision on the ownership of Sky Television. I am sure they are delighted at that outcome.
How can it be called "hypocrisy" for a newspaper to publish a story which could damage its own interests? At worst, it's stupid, but at best it is laudable in that it calls to account those leaders who govern with prejudice and self-importance.

Vince Cable has demonstrated over the Sky affair, just as he demonstrated over Tuition Fees, that he believes his own biased views outweigh all other opinion regardless of how rationally expressed or widely held.

He has shamed and damaged the Liberal Democrat party and should, for once, listen to other people's opinion, specifically about his future as a government minister and a LibDem leader - or rather, the lack of it.

Peter Richards,
Trust is not a word commonly associated with either journalists or professional politicians. I think that you'd better get used to the fact that it's 'open season' on the coalition and that there are hidden mikes waiting to catch every slip.
As for the Telegraph, given that they kept back the little snippet in their own interests, how did the news actually emerge? Has the Big Bad Aussie got a mole in the office?
Peter, The hypocrisy is in them NOT publishing it because it was against their interests and when they claim to be standing up for transparency and accountability.

You have given your opinion, I and others have other opinions. Who should Vince listen to? I suggest that he does what is right.
"Who should Vince listen to? I suggest that he does what is right".

I presume you mean resign.
Hi Peter,

Apologies for my original comment, I clearly hadn't been careful enough in reading what you had written. Yes, I absolutely agree with you over the Telegraph's hypocrisy.

Nevertheless I stand by my assessment that Vince, a very senior member of our party, has displayed a monumental lack of integrity and wisdom - traits which we as Liberal Democrats hold dear.

This is yet another knock to our credibility which began with the David Laws situation, was followed by the whole Tuition Fee pledge breaking fallout and now this.

Consider the damage Brown did to his election campaign with his unguarded comments about Gillian Duffy - they pale into insignificance compared with Vince's comments.

We must not allow ourselves to be tainted by the little power we have gleaned from this coalition, otherwise that power will surely be taken from us.

Peter R
Glynbeddau, you presume too much. The right thing to do is to stay in Government and carry on fighting for Liberal values. After all even Vince is human and makes mistakes.
Peter you know as much as I admire your loyalty to your party it looks as if my view that coalition with the Tories would lead to disaster is proving to be correct. You are very much as Ed Miliband brilliantly put it today in 'the boot' when it comes to driving forward government policies. The last peace time Coalition in the 1930s might have included National Liberals and National Labour but it was a Tory government in all but name. Today's Coalition is a Tory government with the Liberals providing the fig leaf. As Marx would be put it we are seeing history repeat itself first as tragedy and now as farce. As the recent You Gov poll for next year's Assembly election also shows when it comes to the crunch voters will always vote for the real thing. The Tory vote is going up whilst the Liberal Democrats are going nowhere. Vince Cable has already made a hash of university fees. All the political parties except ironically the Liberal Democrats were committed to an increase but the failure of the Liberal Democrats to limit the cuts to higher education in England meant that you were saddled with the blame for an increase to £9000 which is way over the top. Listening to the conversation with the two giggling Telegraph journalists was frankly embarrassing and shows that power can go to the head of even the most level headed person. He was basically showing off to two pretty young women. It really is pretty pathetic when you come to think about it. Murdoch must be laughing all the way to the bank.
You are hardly an impartial observer Jeff. You know that there are a large number of successes for the Lib Dems in this coalition. The most recent being the abolition of ID cards that received royal assent today.
Peter no one is impartial but at least I have history on my side. Every time that the Liberals have gone into coalition with the Tories they end up worse off for the experience. Ambitious members of the party also end up becoming fully paid up Tories. Look at Joe Chamberlain in the 19th cenury or Selwyn Lloyd in the 20th. Your problem is that we do not have a similar political culture to Germany ,for example, where it is the norm for the FDP to join coalitions with either of the other two big parties and no one bats an eyelid when FDP politicians say in public or private they do not like either the personalities or policis of their coalition partners. Lots of British voters expect their polticians to be straight and it has been one of the seeling points of the Liberal Democrats in the past. How can any voter ever again trust David Heath,for example, who voted for the increase in tuition fees but today claims that he is still totally opposed to the policy. Norman Baker's attempt to compare himself to Helen Suzman is just laughable. British poltics is evolving but it will still be interesting to see what the Liberal Democrat pitch at the next election will be. The debates between the party leaders should be interesting for a start. In the short term as the You Gov opinion poll shows the Liberal Democrats have some real problems. 2011 is the year where the Tory led Coalition is going to get out its most contentious policies. In the wake of the VAT rise, votes on welfare cuts which will hit many of your constituents and another right wing Osborne budget on March 23rd I don't think that many voters will be that interested in what Liberal Democrat candidates have to say in next year's Assembly election. If Labour adopted a decapitiation strategy of urging its supporters to cast the second regional vote not for Labour candidates who under the system can't win but for example Green Party candidates you could be in real trouble.
Jeff, as an historian you should know that it is a myth that history repeats itself. In any case the two examples you give are changes of party rather than coalition. You might as well have quoted Churchill as well. The fact is that there has only been one peace time coalition this century and that was in the 1930s. That was a very different period to now.
I notice that Jeff does not mention the grave damage which was done to the old Liberal party by maintaining Labour in power in 1978. ;-)
It's sad that the Telegraph, which used to be impartial in its reporting while openly declaring its support for Conservatism, should now be mixing news and party campaigning. That politicians in the same government do not personally like all their colleagues or share all its policy objectives is hardly new. However, if the Telegraph really thought that this was worth exposing, the reporters should have covered the Conservative component of the coalition as well. I can think of one or two illiberal Conservative ministers who are not happy with the Whiggish tendency of the coalition government.
Peter you are correct that the 1930s are very different from today. The credit for that ,of course , as most objective observers agree ( read the reviews of Gordon Brown's book) has to go to the decisive action taken by Gordon Brown to ensure that the recession didn't turn into a full blown depression. We would have had a repeat of the 1930s if the policies of your partners the Tories had been adopted when the banking crisis occurred. Have a nice Christmas.
Dream on Jeff. We are not responsible for what they said or did before we went into coalition with them. If anything useful has come from the Telegraph tapes it is the way they have demonstrated how the Lib Dems have moderated the extremes of the Tories and ensured that this Government is firmly anchored in the mainstream.
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