Belfast Telegraph

Chinks appear in coalition armour

There seems little doubt that Business Secretary Vince Cable would have been summarily dismissed from office if he had been a Tory.

His blunder of telling undercover reporters that he was going to block media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch's buy-out of BSkyB added to his unguarded comments on the state of relationships within the coalition government left Prime Minister David Cameron seething.

But the Prime Minister merely stripped Mr Cable of his role in deciding if the BSkyB deal goes ahead. Admittedly that is humiliating for the Business Secretary and he may feel ultimately that he has no option but to resign the post. If he does, then he would put to the test his boast to the undercover reporters that his resignation from government would bring the coalition down. However there would be a subtle difference between resigning on a point of principle such as objecting to some Tory-inspired policy and resigning because of a personal gaffe. The latter case would not carry the same weight.

While much of the media attention has centred on Mr Cable's comments about declaring war on Mr Murdoch, his description of life inside the coalition is far more important. There are many people, and not just disaffected Lib Dems, who feel that their party is being used as a fig leaf to give the Tories political cover for some of the government's more unpopular policies such as reform of benefits, changing eligibility for child benefit and potentially raising tuition fees.

According to Mr Cable there are constant arguments within the coalition over policy. This is no bad thing in itself, but how much pressure would have to be applied before these hairline cracks become unbridgeable fissures. And now that Mr Cable, whose appointment to the Cabinet was important in quelling some Lib Dem backbench fears, has turned 'rogue' there must be some concern that the stability of the coalition has been undermined.

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