Peter Hoskin

Leaked Cable

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Loose lips sink ships – but can they sink sages too? Probably not, but Vince Cable has certainly entered tumultuous seas with the publication of candid remarks he made to a couple of Telegraph journalists posing as Lib Dem voters. In the tapes – which you can listen to above – the Business Secretary rattles on unrestrainedly about the inner workings of the coalition. The stand-out line is his claim that "If they push me too far then I can walk out of the government and bring the government down" – but there's more, including:

1) The arguments that are being waged, and won. "We have a big argument going on about tax and that is party political, because I am arguing with Nick Clegg for a very tough approach and our Conservative friends don’t want to do that. You can argue these things publicly, but then it becomes more difficult to get them to compromise. There are some arguments we’ve won, big arguments, on civil liberties issues and questions over Europe, where they have a different style, and didn’t want to be distracted."

2) The coalition's "Maoist revolution". "There is a kind of Maoist revolution happening in a lot of areas like the Health Service, local government, reform, all this kind of stuff, which is in danger of getting out of... We are trying to do too many things, actually. Some of them are Lib Dem inspired, but a lot of it is Tory inspired. Actually, the problem is not that they are Tory-inspired, but that they haven’t thought them through. We should be putting a brake on it."

3) Reducing universal benefits. "They had made a pledge not to do anything about universal child benefit. Cameron had personally pledged not to do it, so they had to bite this bullet and, you know, because they were going to have to reduce universal benefit, they haven’t yet done winter fuel payments, but that’s coming, I think."

To my mind, it's the third of those that is the most significant, not least because it suggests that the debate over universal benefits hasn't actually been parked for this Parliament. But all of the snippets are more or less embarrassing for Cable and the coalition – and you can expect the matter to dominate David Cameron and Nick Clegg's press conference later today, if not the political news cycle over Christmas. Question is: how many more ministers have been visited by "constituents" they've never met before, and spoken as freely as the Business Secretary has?