For me there are a few distinct factors in the in the whole Vince-gate debacle. Now I have slept on it and my anti Murdoch vitriol has subsided a bit I now feel in a position to make some considered comments.
Whatever you may feel about the issue at hand (Murdoch’s takeover of Sky) it is clearly entirely inappropriate for a Minister to be prejudging such an important decision. For Cable (or any minister) to talk in terms of a “war” on a particular company; when said minister has to have a semi judicial role in a process is profoundly undemocratic; and it raises serious questions about due process. Put simply if you have any sort of judicial role you *have* to put your personal prejudices aside and be impartial.
Imagine if this was the “Hulture” secretary prior to a publication of an independent review on the future of the BBC saying he had “declared war on the BBC and public sector broadcasting, I think we will win the licence fee is going” then I for one would be furious and up in arms. Clearly there will come a point when ministers and government would have to make a political judgement; but Vince Cable was not in that place yet.
Further to talk so frankly, and candidly with total strangers about ministerial business (rather than constituency issues) does display a shocking lack of judgement from one of the most senior members of the cabinet.
I think if any minister in the last Government had done this, any Tory in the current government, or even most of the Liberal Democrats (that don’t need to be there for the sake of party unity) then the outcome would have been dismissal. Vince Cable is a lucky man to still be in a job if you ask me.
The Undercover Sting.
One thing I must say I am profoundly uncomfortable about was the nature of the sting. As far as I can see the reporters in question had no real indication of what they might get and were just on a “fishing expedition” to see what they could get.
Now I don’t have a problem with doing this in principle but I do think worry about the venue. I think there is a general problem of “trust” in politics, almost everyone would like politicians to be more candid with electors. I rather think that the privacy of MPs surgeries ought to be respected by the media. If an MP does not feel comfortable talking to constituents frankly, then this will make it much harder to voters to interact with their MPs. The last thing we want is for MPs, even in private with constituents, watching every word that they say and giving “politician” answers. David Allen Green has an interesting take on many of the issues on his blog at the Staggers.
Sunder at Next Left has a different take on this, in which he explains that he thinks there is a legitimate public interest in hearing what the Liberal Democrat ministers have to say about the government in private that is well worth a read.
As I write this it has appeared on twitter that the Hulture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has stated that in his opinion as News International already effectively have a controlling stake in BSkyB then the ownership change makes little difference.
I would beg to differ, there is a massive imbalance in the UK media market. News International is already quite dominant in the UK newspaper market. Were they to control 100% of Sky (with revenues double that of the BBC licence fee) then this would give them a dangerously strong hold on the UK media market.
Further so much of our media having such concentrated ownership is by nature anti-competitive. There is little regulation of either the press media or cable TV. In my view it could be very dangerous for our democracy if there are not better checks and balances. There is a good take at Left Foot Forward on this here.
My biggest worry on this is that even if the Tories wanted to try and clip Murdoch’s wings (and lets be honest as fan boys they surely don’t) then this scandal will make it politically difficult for them to not give him what he wants.
So in reality I think Vince Cable was right about the need to do something about Murdoch, but he used the wrong avenue to try to achieve this.
Liberal Democrats further diminished.
Talking of clipped wings it is really striking the degree to which the Lid Dems have been utterly outclassed by the Tories. Whatever you think of the Politics of Osborne and Cameron I can’t help thinking that you have to admire they way they have handled and marginalised their coalition “partners”.
They have managed to make the Libs there human shields, escaping blame whilst Clegg et al take all the ire for Tory policies (And man the Left really has to wake up on this, really focus on the Tories….), and the Libs are now effectively locked into a death embrace.
Further with Huhne in an important (but marginalised) role, and Cable now diminished the Left of the Libs is now even further marginalised. It is surely only a matter of time before David Laws is bought back. I am struggling to think of a single thing the Government have done, not in the coalition agreement, that the Tories would not have done if in power solely.