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Cable evades Murdoch meeting

Martin Rosenbaum | 12:36 UK time, Wednesday, 22 September 2010

It's a busy life for Vince Cable being business secretary, having to find time to deny being a closet Marxist and so on. It made me wonder if he'd been learning lessons from how Tony Blair coped with the diary pressures of being prime minister.

Vince Cable and James Murdoch

 

This thought was suggested by some e-mails between officials in the Department for Business which the BBC has obtained through a freedom of information request.

When Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation announced in June that it wanted to take full control of BSkyB, his son James (its chief executive for Europe and Asia) spoke to Vince Cable about it on the phone.

A couple of days later Mr Cable's private secretary e-mailed colleagues to report: "James Murdoch's office has called. At the end of the call this week James suggested he and the SoS [Secretary of State] meet up at some point, SoS vaguely agreed. They want a slot in the diary."

An official in the competition law and mergers section of BIS replied that it "would perhaps seem unreasonable to refuse their request".

However no such meeting has since taken place. The Department for Business says that Mr Cable, despite having "vaguely agreed" to the meeting, then felt it might be inappropriate, as he may in due course find himself considering the implications of the proposed takeover himself.

Nevertheless it reminded me of a passage in Tony Blair's recent memoirs: "The leader has always got to be the good guy. You bump into someone; they ask for a meeting; you agree, of course." But when this is followed up, "It's the job of the scheduler to say no."

Mr Blair recounts how his office used in mock severity the phrase "SO", which stood for sackable offence, for "scheduling a meeting with people who were never to cross the threshold". (The Murdoch family probably did not come into this category).

Still, the policy official who recommended the Cable-Murdoch meeting should take place added the rider that "the SofS should be in listening mode". So if the encounter had happened, James Murdoch would have been spared having to hear the details of Mr Cable's critique of capitalism, opinions which may not be identical to his own.

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