Murdoch v Cable – Rumble in the westminster jungle

PM and Vince Cable in Delhi
Image by The Prime Minister's Office via Flickr

I’m not Vince Cable’s biggest fan. I’ll happily admit that. I can’t help but think that his announcement that he had personally taken the decision to refer the News Corp attempted takeover of Sky TV to OfCom was just a little about getting some good publicity for himself.

I suppose I could be wrong but even the New Statesman is reporting Cable’s decision as

a remarkable demonstration of his independence from David Cameron

So it seems likely that Cable took the press coverage into consideration when he decided how to handle the announcement. Cable made it very clear that this decision was his and his alone, striking a blow against the vicious nasty Tory overlords, or some such thing.

Except he wasn’t, was he? I mean, just think it through properly. What else could the Coalition do? If they’d approved the bid for Sky, the (non-Murdoch) media would be crying foul about David Cameron riding roughshod over the Lib Dems and civil servants, all to please his Murdoch, whose pocket he would obviously be very definitely in.

Following the bad press over the failed European Summit, and then the idiotic PR error of hiring a personal photographer and film-maker on the tax-payers pound, how would more headlines about the PM being for sale and Murdoch being the real Prime Minister come across? Could Cameron afford to risk that kind of negative publicity?

So Cameron and his advisers get him a nice little get-out clause with Rupert. He gets Saint Vince to announce the investigation, which naturally Cable jumps at for the headlines he gets. Then Dave phones up Murdoch and says, “Rupert, there’s nothing I can do. That jumped-up shit Cable has ignored me, and now my hands are tied.”

But it seems obvious, to me at least, that there was nothing else Cameron could do without a tory majority in the Commons. I can well imagine the distress and anguish Dave and the Tory high command might display in private meetings with the Murdochs, and I’m sure one or two of them might even mean it. But the truth of this is that they can promise the News Corp chiefs whatever they want to because they know they would never have to follow it through. It’s a nice bit of political dancing from Team Cameron, putting publicity-hungry Cable front and centre and squarely in the Murdoch cross-hairs.

Of course, Murdoch didn’t get to be one of the most powerful men on the planet without being able to see through manoeuvring like Cameron’s. And there’s room for more than one person in those formidable gun sights.


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