Cable hits back over sting damage

Vince Cable has hit back over the newspaper sting which left him clinging to his Cabinet job, saying that it undermined the work of MPs.

The Business Secretary said The Daily Telegraph had done "great damage" by recording what he and other Liberal Democrat Ministers thought were private conversations with constituents.

Mr Cable had to apologise and was stripped of his powers of regulating the media after his views about the workings of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch were made public.

In his first public comments since the story broke, he used an interview with his local paper, the Richmond and Twickenham Times, to express his anger at the way The Daily Telegraph obtained the story using undercover reporters posing as constituents.

"I feel quite angry and strongly about this. I've had constituency surgeries now for 13 years every week, that's well over 600," he said.

"Thousands and thousands of constituents have been to see me, often on very difficult and highly confidential issues which have been respected by me and by them. Then somebody who isn't a constituent falsifies their name and address and comes in with a hidden microphone – it completely undermines the whole basis on which you operate as a local MP.

"All my colleagues, of all parties, feel very strongly that some great damage has been done by this."

A spokesman for the Telegraph Media Group said: "There is a clear public interest in The Daily Telegraph publishing this story.

"The Daily Telegraph takes the Press Complaints Commission code extremely seriously and has always adhered to it."

After The Daily Telegraph published details of another clutch of conversations in which Lib Dem Ministers criticised Conservatives and the coalition, Lib Dem backbencher Adrian Sanders said the party leadership needed to "change direction".

"If lessons are not learnt from the higher education train crash, then the next four years are going to be very long indeed, with our prospects of advancement probably non-existent for a generation," he wrote on his blog.

"The leadership, on the other hand, almost revels in having to take decisions against the grain of Liberal Democrat support and can't see the damage and hurt left in their wake."

According to the latest Daily Telegraph disclosures, Care Minister Paul Burstow told the undercover reporters who attended a surgery in his Sutton and Cheam constituency: "I don't want you to trust David Cameron."

Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell said he did not know where Mr Cameron stood on the "sincerity monitor" while David Heath, deputy leader of the Commons, suggested Chancellor George Osborne "has a capacity to get up one's nose".

Transport Minister Norman Baker said he did not "like George Osborne very much" and compared his own position in the coalition with that of South African MP Helen Suzman, who fought the apartheid regime from the inside.

A contrite Mr Burstow yesterday expressed his embarrassment over what had happened.

"Clearly I'm embarrassed and of course any offence that was given I had no intention to give.

"The Prime Minister has my full trust. I really enjoy working in this coalition. It is an opportunity to put Liberal Democrat ideas into government and work with others to make a difference in this country."

He added: "I haven't lost my Liberal Democrat values, Mr Cameron hasn't lost his Conservative values. People should be reassured by that, they shouldn't be worried by it."