Vince Cable is clinging on to his position in the Government after being humiliatingly rebuked by the Prime Minister for claiming to have “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire.
David Cameron allowed Mr Cable to keep his post as Business Secretary but made no attempt to hide his displeasure, stripping the Liberal Democrat minister of responsibility for media regulation and branding his comments – caught on tape by undercover reporters – as “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph has revealed that a string of Lib Dem ministers had voiced unease about coalition policies in comments recorded by reporters posing as constituents.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore reportedly branded the hike in university tuition fees “a car crash, a train wreck”, while business minister Ed Davey said he was “gobsmacked” by the decision to strip child benefit from higher-rate taxpayers, and pensions minister Steve Webb acknowledged Lib Dems were being damaged by appearing “too cosy” with Tories.
Labour leader Ed Miliband called for Mr Cable’s dismissal, accusing him of breaching the ministerial code requirement for members of the Government to show objectivity in their decisions.
“Vince Cable should have gone. Having apparently breached the ministerial code and having said what he said, he shouldn’t be remaining in office,” said Mr Miliband.
Conservative ministers were reported to be complaining privately that they would be sacked for making a similar gaffe.
The Prime Minister ruled that Mr Cable would play no further role in News Corp’s bid to take a majority stake in the broadcaster BSkyB, while his responsibilities for media policy and competition go to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
A contrite Mr Cable said in a statement that he fully accepted the decision by Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. “I deeply regret the comments I made and apologise for the embarrassment that I have caused the Government,” he said.
Mr Cable appears to have survived largely because Mr Clegg could not afford to lose another senior Liberal Democrat minister from the coalition so soon after David Laws was forced to resign over his expenses. But he is likely to emerge from the controversy as a seriously diminished figure, with Labour branding him a “lame duck” minister who has lost all credibility.