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Cable to face BSkyB bid questions

Business Secretary Vince Cable is due to face questions at the Leveson Inquiry over his handling of News Corporation's takeover bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

The Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister was stripped of his responsibilities for the media in 2010 after being secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch.

His removal led to the handover of quasi-judicial oversight over the bid to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had previously expressed public support for the takeover to go ahead.

Mr Hunt will give his account of his handling of the bid on Thursday, in what is expected to be one of the most dramatic days yet of the inquiry into media standards and the relationship between politicians and the press.

The Culture Secretary insists that he oversaw the process "with scrupulous fairness throughout" and has received strong backing from the Prime Minister. But David Cameron has also said that if anything arises from the inquiry that suggests the ministerial code might have been breached, he will call in his independent ethics adviser Sir Alex Allan or take immediate action himself.

Mr Cable narrowly escaped with his job in December 2010 when he told two undercover reporters from The Daily Telegraph that he was seeking to block News Corp's attempt to buy the 61% of BSkyB which it did not already own, by referring the bid to regulators Ofcom. "I have declared war on Mr Murdoch, I think I'll win," he said.

Evidence gathered by the Leveson Inquiry over recent weeks has suggested that News Corp was already dissatisfied with Mr Cable's handling of its bid.

Lobbyist Fred Michel said that "morale was quite low" in the company while Mr Cable's Business Department was in charge of the issue, while Mr Hunt told Mr Cameron in a memo that News Corp executive James Murdoch was "furious" about the Ofcom referral.

After Mr Cable's gaffe was revealed, Mr Michel was quick to send text messages to Government figures including aides to George Osborne and Nick Clegg, branding his comments "outrageous" and suggesting he might have to leave the Cabinet.

Mr Cable is expected to be challenged over whether he gave News Corp a fair hearing. And he may also be asked about the ethics of the journalistic "sting" which caught him out. Also giving evidence to Lord Justice Leveson will be Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke.

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