Wednesday News Review

Liberal ‘Discontent’ Spreads

More Liberal Democrat ministers have been exposed as harbouring serious doubts about the fairness of important aspects of coalition policies, especially the trebling of tuition fees and the withdrawal of child benefit from higher-rate tax payers. The revelations will be seen as a sign that some Lib Dem ministers express loyalty to coalition policies in public, but then distance themselves when speaking in what they regard as private conversations with constituents. Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary, said cutting child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers was “blatantly not a consistent and fair thing to do”, while the business minister Ed Davey said he was “gobsmacked” by the decision. Steve Webb, the pensions minister, revealed he had written to George Osborne seeking changes to the policy because “the details aren’t right”. – Guardian

The ministers also revealed behind-the-scenes attempts to slow or even stop Tory policies. It is the first time that Liberal Democrat concern over child benefit cutbacks has surfaced, with opposition to the proposal previously coming from back-bench Conservative MPs. The fresh disclosures were made in conversations between the ministers and reporters from The Daily Telegraph posing as Liberal Democrat voters in their constituencies. Further concerns among senior Lib Dems about Coalition policy and leading Conservative figures will be exposed in the coming days. – Telegraph

Cable now a ‘lame duck’

Humiliated Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of major powers last night after an attack on The Sun’s owner Rupert Murdoch. No10 acted after he bragged he had “declared war” on the media boss. Dr Cable – who will appear in Strictly Come Dancing’s Christmas Day special – was clinging to his job by his fingertips last night after the extraordinary attack. Dr Cable’s wild remarks – caught on tape – left PM David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg “apoplectic with rage”, aides said. They let humiliated Dr Cable keep his Cabinet post but stripped him of major powers – leading Labour to brand him a “lame duck”. – The Sun

In an emergency statement issued last night, Downing Street said that a large part of Mr Cable’s responsibilities would now be transferred to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary.  In a statement, a Downing Street spokesman said: “Following comments made by Vince Cable to The Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister has decided that he will play no further part in the decision over News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB. In addition, all responsibility for competition and policy issues relating to media, broadcasting, digital and telecoms sectors will be transferred immediately to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.” More than 70 Whitehall officials who work on media and telecom policy for the Business Department will be moved to work for Mr Hunt from today. – Telegraph

Full steam ahead for takeover

The EU yesterday cleared News Corp’s £8bn bid to buy the 61% of pay-TV company BSkyB it does not already own, thus making a good day for the company even better. The media conglomerate, run by Rupert Murdoch, seized on the ruling, claiming it would increase the pressure on the British government to do the same. A few hours later, Vince Cable, who had the power to decide whether to block the deal on public interest grounds publicly, if unwittingly, declared his opposition to the deal. His boast to two undercover reporters that he had “declared war on Mr Murdoch” fatally undermined the business secretary’s independence and made it impossible for him to rule on the Sky bid. That task will now fall to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, a man who has previously expressed admiration for BSkyB. – Guardian

Flu cases rise after autumn advertising axe

Swine flu has surged in the past five days with the number of cases requiring intensive care 70 per cent above last year’s peak, the Chief Medical Officer said yesterday. John Healey, the shadow Health Secretary, accused the Government of doing “too little too late”. “The Health Secretary is playing catch-up. The only attention he’s paid to the preparations for this winter’s flu outbreak is to axe the autumn advertising campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated and make them aware of the risks. He made the wrong judgement and it’s left too many people without the flu protection they should have,” said Mr Healey. – Independent

Don’t forget the by-election

The prime minister has confirmed he will be visiting Oldham East and Saddleworth during the by-election to campaign for the Tory candidate. At a joint press conference with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg today, he also described how the next general election will be “slightly different” from usual. “We will fight as separate parties and I hope the campaign will be more polite,” David Cameron said. Cameron said despite the fact “prime ministers don’t often go” to by-elections, he will visit Oldham in the new year. Clegg revealed he will be in the constituency tomorrow. –

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright is heading up a by-election campaign to regain a controversial seat. Mr Wright says he was asked by Labour leader Ed Miliband to be campaign manager in the by-election for the Oldham East and Saddleworth seat in the House of Commons. Now Mr Wright is hoping to use his experience of winning a by-election himself in Hartlepool in 2004 to help Labour candidate for the Greater Manchester seat, Debbie Abrahams. Mr Wright won the 2004 by-election to take the Hartlepool seat with a 2,033 magority after the sitting Labour MP for the town, Peter Mandelson, stepped down to become a European Commissioner.” – Peterlee Mail

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