The lasting legacy of The Telegraph’s secret taping of Vince Cable may be a breakdown in the relationship between the paper and David Cameron.
As the week has gone on it has been increasingly clear that the paper’s decision to gamble on the undercover reporting of Liberal Democrats has backfired spectacularly.
The most important scoop they got – about Cable’s ‘War on Murdoch’ – they chose not to splash with, for whatever reason (see Greenslade and Robert Peston for competing views). So the added sales revenue will have been limited, especially on the Wednesday when everyone else led with Murdoch and they led with a less interesting headline.
Not only that, the paper is now facing potential legal repercussions, with the Press Complaints Commission confirming they have received complaints. Cable himself has criticised the decision to go undercover and it is clear that the subterfuge was dubious in terms of legality.
But the real long-term damage the paper may have done is in its relationship with the government, particularly with the Conservative leadership.
While you may think that the Conservatives would be in favour of smashing Nick Clegg and his band of hapless followers into the groun, the inadequacy of the Liberal Democrats undermines the pro-coalition Conservatives as much as it does Vince. It serves as a reminder to those right-wing Tories who despise Cameron’s ‘modern’ Conservatism both that the PM failed to secure a majority in May and that he could have gone for a minority government instead of a coalition.
So for the traditionally Conservative paper to be giving the Liberal Democrats such a tough time is not going down well with those close to David Cameron.
Earlier this year when The Telegraph published the story about David Laws’s expenses it was well-known in political circles that the Conservative leadership was pretty cheesed off about it and made their feelings known to those in senior positions at the paper. They felt, and possibly fairly so, that it was going out of its way to undermine the coalition by attacking the Lib Dems.
And this has been reflected in a slightly hostile relationship between the two this year. While there have been relatively few leaks from the Conservatives’ during this government, those that there have been have tended not to go to The Telegraph, with the Times and even the Guardian being preferred.
So this latest set of attacks will have infuriated Cameron as much as Clegg and Vince. Having to call a rather grovelling press conference with Nick Clegg to try and calm the situation was exactly what the PM didn’t need in the last week before Christmas. And the allegations only make it harder for Cameron to deal with his right-wing back-benchers; with many furious that Cable didn’t get the sack when Lord Young got the chop for a much lesser crime.
It was already clear that The Telegraph and the liberal Conservatives in charge of the government have a frosty relationship. Their latest attack on the Liberal Democrats may have caused it to freeze over.