Thu, Dec 23, 2010 - Page 6 News List

UK strips business minister of powers after ‘war’ threat

AFP, LONDON

Britain’s coalition government was under pressure yesterday after its business secretary was stripped of key powers following his remark that he had “declared war” on media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday told Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable he would no longer have a say in Murdoch’s bid to take full control of pay TV giant BSkyB.

This came after Cable told undercover newspaper reporters that he planned to block the US$12 billion bid by Murdoch’s News Corp for BSkyB.

“You may wonder what is happening with the Murdoch press,” Cable told the reporters from the Daily Telegraph, posing as constituents. “I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we’re going to win.”

EU regulators on Tuesday cleared News Corp’s attempt to buy a majority stake in BSkyB but the deal remains subject to a British regulatory review, which is due to report next week.

In a humiliating blow for one of the government’s top ministers, Cable’s department was also stripped of a string of other powers although he hung on to his job.

The controversy heaps pressure on Britain’s first coalition since World War II, formed after inconclusive elections in May and made up of two parties often regarded as ill-suited political partners.

And there was further evidence of tension yesterday, as the Telegraph revealed more secret recordings in which Lib Dem ministers voiced criticism of government policy.

In his comments, Cable said that he had blocked the bid “using the powers that I have got. And they are legal powers that I have got.”

“I can’t politicize it, but for the people who know what is happening, this is a big thing. His whole empire is now under attack. So there are things like that, that being in government ... All we can do in opposition is protest,” he said.

Cameron’s spokesman said Cable’s remarks “were totally unacceptable and inappropriate.”

Murdoch owns Britain’s top-selling daily newspaper, the Sun, which backed Cameron’s Conservatives in the elections in May.

A spokesperson for News Corp had earlier said that it was “shocked and dismayed” by Cable’s remarks.

Telegraph Media Group, the owner of the newspaper, is one of several media organizations that have opposed the BSkyB deal.

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