Vince Cable has said he is “embarrassed” by his off-the-cuff remarks about the coalition, including an observation that policy on town halls and health was “a kind of Maoist revolution” that needed to have a brake put on it.
Mr Cable indicated privately to two journalists he thought were constituents that he could walk out of the coalition and “bring the government down” if he was “pushed too far” in negotiations with Tory ministers.
The Liberal Democrat business secretary was recorded telling undercover reporters from The Daily Telegraph that the situation with the coalition was “like fighting a war” and that he could use the “nuclear option”.
Mr Cable - the most senior Lib Dem member of the coalition after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - later said in a statement that he was “embarrassed” by his remarks but insisted that he had no intention of resigning.
He told the reporters: “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.”
Mr Cable said he had been involved in “big argument” over how to deal with the banks, with the Lib Dems pressing for a “very tough approach” which was opposed by “our Conservative friends”. He said that while he had to pick his fights carefully, he was prepared to use the ultimate sanction and resign if he was pushed too hard by the Conservatives.
“I have a nuclear option; it’s like fighting a war. They know I have nuclear weapons, but I don’t have any conventional weapons. If they push me too far then I can walk out and bring the Government down and they know that,” he said. “So it is a question of how you use that intelligently without getting involved in a war that destroys all of us. That is quite a difficult position to be in and I am picking my fights. Some of which you may have seen.”
He also told the reporters - posing as constituents in his Twickenham constituency - that he believed David Cameron wanted to reduce or scrap altogether the winter fuel allowance for pensioners.