The revelation that Vince Cable had spoken boastfully and even aggressively to undercover reports from the Daily Telegraph posing as constituents will cause him no little embarrassment. He is a leading figure on the left of the Liberal Democrats and he may well be right in saying that his resignation from the government would bring it down. Of course, his analogy of the nuclear option is carefully chosen: no-one can be completely sure, and it would cause political destruction all round.
It confirms the traditional notion that a gaffe is what happens when a politician speaks the truth.
More serious, though, than the revelation that the left of the Liberal Democrats and the right of the Tory party do not see eye to eye on everything are his comments about Rupert Murdoch. Mr Murdoch’s media company, News International, wants to buy the 61 per cent share of satellite TV broadcaster BSkyB that it does not already own. Critics of this plan, which include the other newspapers and the BBC, fear that it will strengthen Mr Murdoch’s grip on the media marketplace and reduce pluralism. Mr Murdoch already owns four leading national newspapers and a major book publisher, and the opportunities for gaining a competitive advantage by cross-promotion are possibly substantial.
Mr Cable, as secretary of state for business, ultimately has to take a view on the acceptability of this takeover, but in a quasi-judicial role and not a political one. However, his comments to the reporters – “I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win” – may well make it harder for him to act in a quasi-judicial capacity. Mr Murdoch is such a controversial figure in British politics that it would be almost impossible for any politician to act in that manner. The value of the constitutional separation of powers between judicial and executive functions becomes ever clearer.