The Lib Dems on ‘Hackgate’ and Murdoch: Ashdown, Huhne, Hughes, Farron, Oakeshott all join the fray

by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2011

It’s been a frenzied week in British politics, with attention for once focused less on the mis-deeds of politicans than the criminality practised by many journalists, both at the News of the World and beyond. Here’s a brief round-up of what the Lib Dems have been saying…

BSkyB takeover: Lib Dems hint at backing Labour motion to delay deal (Guardian)

The Liberal Democrats have indicated they could back a Labour move in parliament to delay the Murdoch takeover of BSkyB until after the police investigations into phone hacking. …

[Simon] Hughes told Sky News: “We have to be careful and I would suggest if Labour want our support they should come and talk to us about that. If a motion can be formed that can provide wider than Labour support and isn’t a partisan motion, then I would think that they would get wider support. My recommendation to my colleagues – it’s not my final decision, it’s a parliamentary party decision – would be that we as a parliamentary party make clear that it’s our view that the takeover should not go ahead until the criminal investigations are completed.”

[Chris] Huhne said on the BBC: “We will obviously have to look at the details of the motion before deciding what should be done in terms of the voting.” …

… the Lib Dems are adamant that any move is not seen as a Labour one, with insiders highlighting Labour’s relationship with News International over the years and Miliband’s failure to speak out on the issue before the Guardian revelations about the hacking of Milly Dowler’s voicemail this week.

Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer and close ally of Cable, said: “Liberal Democrats from the cabinet to councillors to Focus deliverers are totally united. We want to block the BSkyB bid and then break up the Murdoch empire. He’s far too powerful – we don’t let Tesco have 40% of the market. This is not just about blocking the bid, it’s about ending a serious danger to our democracy.”

Phone hacking: I warned No 10 over Coulson appointment, says Ashdown (Observer)

The crisis engulfing David Cameron over phone hacking deepened on Saturday as Paddy Ashdown revealed that he had warned No 10 only days after the general election of “terrible damage” to the coalition if he employed Andy Coulson in Downing Street. The former Liberal Democrat leader, who had been extensively briefed on details that had not been made public for legal reasons, was so convinced that the truth would eventually emerge that he contacted the prime minister’s office.

Ashdown, a key player as the Liberal Democrats agonised over whether to join in a coalition with the Tories, told the Observer that, based on what he had been told, it was obvious Coulson’s appointment as Cameron’s director of communications would be a disaster. “I warned No 10 within days of the election that they would suffer terrible damage if they did not get rid of Coulson, when these things came out, as it was inevitable they would,” he said.

Huhne and Clegg both advised Cameron against hiring Andy Coulson (Observer / Guardian, links above)

It has also emerged that Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, received similar briefings to those given to Ashdown before the election, which he raised with Cameron – only to be rebuffed by the prime minister, who insisted that it was right to give Coulson a “second chance”.

Senior Whitehall sources say that Clegg was stunned by what he was told but concluded, after the coalition deal was struck, that he was powerless to change Cameron’s mind. “Clegg said: ‘It is not up to me to tell the prime minister who to appoint as his director of communications’,” said a source.

[Chris] Huhne said: “I certainly raised it with Nick, and Nick raised it with the prime minister, and it was made very clear to us that this was a personal appointment of the prime minister and wasn’t a government appointment and therefore we didn’t have any standing to object to it. It was very clear from what I had said previously that I think that big reputational risks were being run,” he added.

Tim Farron: The phone-hacking stench will linger (Independent)

The media, politicians and the police have failed the public. But it is not true that ‘they were all at it’ – whether it be all journalists or all senior politicians. Labour and the Conservatives spent decades cosying up to Rupert Murdoch and his cronies in the hope of an endorsement or a favourable headline. The Liberal Democrats did not. …

We are not all the same, not inside the Government or outside it. Nick Clegg did not beg for the scraps from Murdoch’s table. During the election campaign, former Sun editor David Yelland said ‘One man utterly beyond the tentacles of any of [Murdoch’s] family, his editors or his advisers is Nick Clegg’.

I am bitterly disappointed that a non-Murdoch newspaper honey trap cost Vince Cable his right to adjudicate over Murdoch’s proposed BSkyB takeover. But the private comments Vince made, that he had ‘declared war on Murdoch’, should make it clear that the Liberal Democrats are far from in his pocket. … apologies, inquiries and punishment are not enough. … We need a new order. Journalists must act ethically and obey the law. The police must never breach their bond of trust with the public and politicians must put people before the powerful.