Posted in Politics at 22:00 on 22 December 2010
Yes, Vince Cable should not have said he’d block the Murdoch takeover of Sky but the other stuff is totally unremarkable. It is perfectly obvious to one and all that had he resigned from the government at any point up to now then the coalition would have been in deep trouble. (The same may no longer be true due to the fallout from this.)
However, the fact that he was entrapped is what bothers me. Moreover it ought to bother anyone who might have to contact an MP about a constituency matter.
This underhanded piece of agent provocateurship does a profound disservice the democratic process as it operates in the UK. (What passes for a democratic process.) Anything which undermines what little restraint or influence constituents can have on their MPs between elections is to be deplored.
I heard some journalist on the radio saying that everyone understood that if as an MP you said you were talking “off the record” then that would be adhered to. If you didn’t – and Vince hadn’t in those terms – then you were fair game. That totally ignores the fact that Cable did not think he was talking to a journalist; he thought he was talking to a constituent. There is a world of difference.
Of course he would not have said these things to a journalist. But most people say things to others they don’t necessarily mean. In some cases it’s known as being polite.
Also, things said in private may not always correspond to public utterances. An employee, for instance, may be less than enthusiastic about his/her employer when not at work – sometimes even at work – but never to the boss’s face.
We are not, here, discussing criminal behaviour (where such tactics by journalists may be justifiable in uncovering wrongdoing) but about the interaction between a representative of the people and his constituents. Cable had, I believe, not even done anything against the ministerial code of conduct as he had not yet actually made his decision about the takeover. It certainly hadn’t been announced. He was guilty only of boasting, puffing himself up; as I suspect most MPs would/do in these situations.
An MP has the right to expect that those who come to him for help as a constituent are who they say they are. Otherwise it will be difficult for him or her to do their job properly.
This journalistic sting succeeded in that it revealed Vince wasn’t too happy about aspects of the Government’s programme.
Didn’t we know that already? And that other Lib Dems felt similarly?
Who potentially benefits from all this fuss about nothing?
Murdoch and News International.
That tells us a lot.