Leveson: Cable talks of 'veiled threats' against Lib Dems

Vince Cable: "I was in an emotional frame of mind"

Business Secretary Vince Cable has said "veiled threats" were made against the Liberal Democrats when he was assessing News Corporation's 2010 bid for BSkyB.

He told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics his party was warned it would be "done over" in the firm's newspapers if he ruled against its takeover attempt.

Mr Cable was removed from his role after being secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch.

He put his comments on News Corp's boss down to "pent-up feelings".

Mr Cable's role was handed to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has come under fire after it emerged he had expressed support for the bid.

In December 2010, the business secretary had told two undercover Daily Telegraph reporters he was seeking to block News Corp's attempt to buy the 61% of BSkyB shares it did not already own, by referring the bid to regulators Ofcom.

In his witness statement to the inquiry, Mr Cable says his references to a "war" were "making the point, no doubt rather hyperbolically, that l had no intention of being intimidated."

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In that very special and tense situation I rather offloaded my feelings."”

End Quote Vince Cable

He told the inquiry his language was part of a longer conversation and influenced by the fact that he was in an "extremely tense and emotional frame of mind" after a protest took place outside his constituency office.

"I had heard directly and indirectly from colleagues that there had been veiled threats, that if I made the wrong decision from the point of view of the company, my party would be - I think somebody used the phrase - done over in the News International press," Mr Cable said.

"I took those things seriously. I was very concerned. I had myself tried to deal with the process entirely properly and impartially and I discovered that this was happening in the background.

"I frankly stored up my anger at what was taking place. But, in that very special and tense situation I rather offloaded my feelings."

'Independent mind'

Mr Cable said he believed the "threats" against his party came from conversations with News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel but cross examined by Rhodri Davies QC, counsel for the company, refused to identify the person who informed him of the reports.

Earlier, questioned by inquiry counsel Robert Jay QC on making quasi-judicial decisions on issues like the BSkyB bid, Mr Cable said he was able to use "an independent mind".

He had thought Mr Murdoch's newspapers held "disproportionate political influence" but that was not a factor in his decision to refer the bid, as his views were "quite nuanced".

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I was deliberately and consciously keeping my private views separate from the decision I had to make ”

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He added he did not wish to be "disrespectful" to News Corp executive James Murdoch by turning down a meeting, but decided it was "not appropriate".

The company had the option to put its views in writing which it did, he added. He also received lobbying from groups including the BBC, the TUC, media firm Enders, the Guardian, BT and Capital Research Management.

Mr Hunt is to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on Thursday.

Following Mr Cable on the stand, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke told the inquiry people were put off going into politics because they did not want to open their private lives to scrutiny.

He said politicians were influenced by a "noisier and noisier" press, claiming newspapers could "drive weak governments like sheep".

"The power of the press is now far greater than the power of Parliament," he said.

The justice secretary said he had been forced to move his bank account after becoming chancellor in 1993 - after discovering journalists had been trying to bribe staff at his village branch for personal information.

The activity would have been regarded as "perfectly customary" at the time, he said.

Mr Clarke said 21st century governments were "totally obsessed" with newspapers but he thought "currying favour" with the press was a waste of time.

He said: "Gordon Brown was utterly obsessed with his relations with the media. Didn't do him any good at all."

But Margaret Thatcher never read a newspaper from one week to the next, he added.

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