A senior British minister had to step aside from media policy issues after telling undercover reporters he had “declared war” on media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Business Secretary Vince Cable was taped by Daily Telegraph journalists posing as constituents saying “I have declared war on Mr. Murdoch and I think we are going to win.”
Murdoch’s News Corp. owns several British newspapers and has a 40 percent stake in broadcaster BSkyB. Its bid to buy the remaining shares in BSkyB was cleared on Tuesday by European regulators, but is still under investigation by regulators in Britain and is opposed by Mr. Murdoch’s many rivals.
Prime Minister Dave Cameron called Mr. Cable’s comments “totally unacceptable and inappropriate,” his office said. The leader said Mr. Cable will play no further part in the decision over News Corp.’s takeover bid.
Mr. Cable’s comments were on a recording of the conversation played by the BBC. They were not reported by the Telegraph, which ran a story on Tuesday about other remarks Mr. Cable made to its reporters.
On the tape, Mr. Cable says Murdoch “is trying to take over BSkyB. He has a minority shareholding and he wants a majority, and majority control would give them a massive stake. I have blocked it using the powers that I have.”
As business secretary, Mr. Cable was responsible for deciding whether to refer the takeover bid to the Competition Commission. News Corp. said it was “shocked and dismayed” and said Mr. Cable’s reported comments “raise serious question’s about fairness and due process.”
Earlier, Mr. Cable apologized for saying he could bring down the government if pushed and claiming public sector reforms risked running out of control.
He told the journalists that that “I have a nuclear option ... If they push me too far then I can walk out and bring the government down.”
Mr. Cable’s Liberal Democrat party is junior partner to the Conservatives in Britain’s coalition government. Before the election Mr. Cable was strongly critical of many economic policies his government now endorses as it seeks to cut public spending and slash the country’s deficit.
Mr. Cable told the reporters that his desire for a tough approach to the banks, which precipitated the financial crisis, had been opposed by “our Conservative friends.”
He likened the planned reforms to health care and local government to a “Maoist revolution ... which is in danger of getting out of control.”
“They haven’t thought them through,” Mr. Cable said.” We should be putting a brake on it.”
After the story ran, Mr. Cable issued a statement saying “I am embarrassed by these comments and I regret them.”
“I have no intention of leaving the government.”
But the opposition Labour Party said Mr. Cable’s unguarded comments revealed deep divisions within the government, which was formed after no party won an outright majority in May’s national election.
“The government is paralyzed while millions wonder if their job will go next,” said Labour’s business spokesman, John Denham.
Ballroom dancing aficionado Cable is due to appear on a Christmas episode of the TV talent show “Strictly Come Dancing.”