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Did I say that out loud?

December 23, 2010

We all have moments we wish we had kept out thoughts to ourselves rather letting their assumed importance persuade us to share them with the world in general.

Over sharing is an affliction common to politicians (and, of course, bloggers and columnists – but then that is rather their point). Vince Cable is paying a heavy price for sharing his opinion on Rupert Murdoch in general and his News Corp bid for BSkyB in particular with what he took to be two of his constituents.

You can have some sympathy for the way he was ‘entrapped,’ it does seem a pity if an MP can’t assume visitors to his local ‘surgery’ sessions are genuine. That said, what on earth was he doing discussing media policy – this can’t have been the pretext on which they wanted a meeting, and if it was he should have smelled a rat. The tapes are pretty excruciating – all the reporters had to do was giggle encouragingly to land the next bragged revelation.

However distasteful it may be The Daily Telegraph’s methodology was justified by Cable’s outburst on Murdoch (and not be the other run of the mill tittle-tattle ‘revealed’ by the exercise).  In the Murdoch question Cable’s formal role is ‘quasi-judicial’, in the jargon, and, in fact, he is judge and jury able to ignore all advice and consultation and make his own decision. That it is why it was so damaging for him to make it plain he had already made his mind up and had a deep seated prejudice against one of the parties involved. This was spectacularly ill-judged – even if his ‘constituents’ had not been journalists there would have been nothing to stop them talking to reporters later.

And, with an irony that will be richly enjoyed at Murdoch HQ, Cable’s foolishness has made it far more likely the deal will be waved through. The decision is now with the DCMS Secretary Jeremy Hunt, much more sympathetic to the deal, and Ofcom is unlikely to make a black and white recommendation to reject.

Meanwhile Cable is the mighty fallen – 18 months ago he was the guru who called the recession right and could have been elected by acclamation to the Chancellorship no matter which party was in power. Now careless and, let’s face it, arrogant talk has cost him the lion’s share of his credibility. If he weren’t a totem for the left of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government he would be finished. And perhaps for him that would be better than struggling on as a lame duck Business Secretary.

And the celebration for News Corp doesn’t stop there. The candle on top of the icing on this particular cake was the revelation that The Telegraph had ignored the Murdoch references on the tape in its reporting because it agreed with Cable about the Sky deal and didn’t want to disrupt the likely vetoing. Fortunately, a disgusted whistleblower sent the additional transcript to the BBC.

A perfect three card trick for News then; the humiliation of two enemies leading to the likelihood of their deal being approved.

Categories: Blogs, Business, M&A, Nick Snow, Regulation