Vince Cable has privately indicated that he could walk out of the coalition and “bring the Government down” if he is “pushed too far” in negotiations with Tory ministers, it has been disclosed.
The Liberal Democrat Business Secretary was recorded telling undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph that the situation with the coalition was “like fighting a war” and that he could use the “nuclear option”. He also told the reporters – posing as constituents in his Twickenham constituency – that he believed David Cameron wanted to reduce or scrap altogether the winter fuel allowance for pensioners.
Mr Cable – the most senior Lib Dem member of the coalition after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – said in a statement that he was “embarrassed” by his remarks but insisted that he had no intention of resigning.
However his frank comments will raise fresh questions over whether the Tory-Lib Dem coalition can survive intact until the planned date of the next general election in May 2015.
During his conversation with the undercover reporters Mr Cable said he had been involved in “big argument” over how to deal with the banks, with the Lib Dems pressing for a “very tough approach” which was opposed by “our Conservative friends”. He said that while he had to pick his fights carefully, he was prepared to use the ultimate sanction and resign if he was pushed too hard by the Conservatives.
“I have a nuclear option; it’s like fighting a war. They know I have nuclear weapons, but I don’t have any conventional weapons. If they push me too far then I can walk out and bring the Government down and they know that,” he said.
“So it is a question of how you use that intelligently without getting involved in a war that destroys all of us. That is quite a difficult position to be in and I am picking my fights. Some of which you may have seen.”
Mr Cable also criticised the speed at which the coalition was trying to push through change, without thinking through properly what they were doing, and suggested the Lib Dems should be “putting a brake on it”.
Shadow business secretary John Denham said that Mr Cable’s comments revealed a government “paralysed” by infighting among ministers “This infighting explains why the Tory-led government has three times abandoned plans to publish a plan for growth. The Government is paralysed while millions wonder if their job will go next,” he said.
A Labour Party spokesman added: “Vince Cable’s unguarded words show this really is a Tory-led government. Under David Cameron’s premiership, the Lib Dems have broken promises on VAT, tuition fees and police numbers and got little in return.”