Vince Cable might be out of a job soon – despite the decision to keep him on as Business Secretary for now. His injudicious remarks to posing-as-constituents undercover journalists from the Telegraph might well be enough to get him the push eventually. You can’t afford to tell the truth in politics, after all – even if you think you have the power to bring a government down and win a ‘war on Murdoch’.
Clearly, the revelation of Cable’s ‘war on Murdoch’ makes it difficult for him to claim impartiality in making the ultimate judgement on News Corp’s take-over of BSkyB. So, it is right that this judgement has been removed from him. But, it should not be inferred from this that Murdoch’s bid is somehow validated – or that it should now get an easier ride – despite the cries of righteous indignation that will (inevitably and justifiably) emanate from the Empire. The bid is questionable on a number of grounds and needs to be examined on impartial grounds if the eventual judgement is to have the credibility that really matters in the fast-changing media environment.
But, the ethics of journalists pretending to be constituents and secretly recording Cable are also questionable (at the very least). The same people who complain about dissembling politicians seem not to be able to understand why public figures feel compelled to dissemble in the first place. We create a vicious and unedifying circle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Thinking aloud for a moment, what are the alternatives? Would we applaud a government in which every individual Minister said publicly what they really think about every issue? Or would we deride such a government for being ill-disciplined, ego-driven and hopelessly inept? We (the media and the public who love the drama of scandal and the schadenfreude of seeig th mighty fall) seem to want it both ways.
Cable got it badly wrong. But, he wasn’t the only one who should be questioning his ethics.
Postscript 22 December: If Vince Cable is compromised in being the adjudicator of the Murdoch bid by the partisan comments he has made, why is Jeremy Hunt not compromised by the same? http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/22/jeremy-hunt-news-corp-bskyb?CMP=twt_fd