Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vince Cable, devious journalists and stating the obvious

So, that's how it's going to be, is it? The confidentiality of the MP's surgery breached by a couple of journalists wired up with a concealed microphone. 

I always thought that it was illegal to record a conversation without the other person's knowledge and consent. That's why, when you phone the tax credits office, or your insurance company, or your bank, they tell you that your conversation may be recorded. If the Telegraph hasn't broken the law, they've certainly been sneaky, devious, discourteous and lazy. I find it interesting that they've released the audio of Vince, but not of these women telling lies.

If papers go to this length, how long is it going to be before they try to get reporters into private family occasions, maybe posing as friends, or even people who date their kids?

In a week when we've lost two journalists, Brian Hanrahan and Anthony Howard, who displayed integrity and wisdom throughout their careers, and who genuinely illuminated our lives, it's difficult to associate the profession they practiced with what passes for journalism these days.

In terms of what Vince actually said, I guess most people will read it and think that it's pretty much fair comment, that this is what they expect life to be like in a coalition. There's no nasty, bitter or personal tone, to it. In fact, the two Conservatives who are mentioned by name are spoken of in good terms.

There's no doubting that Vince has had some of the biggest battles to fight in his ministerial role. The furore over tuition fees alone would be enough to exhaust anyone. While I have my own difficulties with the system that's emerged, there is no doubt that it's the fairest option that was available and will actually cost graduates less than the current system. And if you stay on a low income throughout your career, your tuition will effectively be mostly free. Vince made sure of that in a way that wouldn't have happened had Labour or the Tories been governing alone.

In addition to that, he's also had the effects of the Tories' ill thought out immigration cap to deal with. He's been honest all along about how he feels about that.  I am fairly certain that every single Liberal Democrat will have smirked with pleasure when the Court Judgement ruling the temporary cap illegal came out last week. That's an issue which isn't over yet.

It's patently obvious that there are going to be policy divisions between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats governing together and Government ministers have never tried to hide it. There's no doubt that they have managed to forge a professional working relationship and there's been a fair amount of give and take on both sides. It wasn't a Tory idea to raise the tax threshold, taking nearly a million people out of tax altogether and the NHS reforms and free schools weren't Lib Dem ideas and we're going to feel less comfortable with them.

I reckon that this Government is probably a great deal more functional and grown up than any Government in the last 30 years. We had Thatcher ruling with a rod of iron, then Major's government being ripped apart on Europe and the pure venom and internecine bile that marked much of Labour's time in office.

All these recordings have done is to confirm that Liberal Democrat ministers are fighting hard to introduce Liberal Democrat policies within the coalition. I'm glad to hear it. I had enough faith in our people to think that anyway, even if I can't agree with the final outcomes on some issues.

I found Vince's comments about Howard Flight particularly interesting. This is the guy who Cameron's appointed to the Lords who's had a series of controversies, most recently when he spoke about Child Benefit changes being disincentive to the middle classes to breed. The guy is clearly the sort of Tory prat who treats the Daily Mail as if it's Holy Writ and is a walking cocktail of ill-informed prejudices.

Vince said of him:
 Howard Flight is actually a very nice guy, I know him well, but he is very, kind of, crass. They sacked him in the middle of the 2005 election, because he blurted something out that he wasn’t supposed to say. Howard sacked him, but you know, he is a nice but rather silly public school boy with a few prejudices to boot. But we don’t control their appointments, so they don’t control ours. That’s the basis.
Vince shows the maturity of seeing the person beyond the daft ideas and I respect him for that. I've had friends, or close relatives who have views that to me are eye-wateringly scary. My lovely Great Aunt Vera was one such. She had some pretty right wing views, but when it came down to it, when her great niece ran off with a divorced man twice her age, she welcomed him and was absolutely tolerant. Her son, at her funeral, who's of a similar leftie bent to me, spoke so lovingly of her and said that while they'd disagreed about issues, those arguments were always worth having.

Secret recordings are supposed to shock, but what the Telegraph has done is to confirm the good things about Vince, that he's a good MP who's prepared to be open and honest with his constituents. Much of what he said was a complete statement of the obvious. We'll see what else comes out, but I suspect they'll have played their trump card early on.

I hope that revelations like this will not lead to politicians being more careful about what they say in private situations. Most people don't record conversations and it would be a shame if Government ministers started to talk in Government press-release speak all the time.


Mark said...

I think he must be under considerable strain, he seems to be losing the plot altogether.

Jeff said...

Totally agree Caron. This is a dark day for the UK if this is how stories are to be sourced going forwards. I can't imagine there's many of us who would keep
our jobs if private conversations could be splashed over te front pages on a whim.

Indeed, I don't think Cable even needed to be demoted, let alone sacked. There's no evidence that, whatever Vince thinks of Murdoch's empire on a personal level, that he wouldn't have carried out his task absolutely above board.

The Telegraph has it in for the Lib Dems because Cameron failed to win a majority but it's a poor show if you ask me.


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