Coffee House

Fox in the clear?

10 October 2011

Liam Fox demonstrated today why he’ll be staying in Cabinet. He’s a tough, eloquent and
effective Commons performer who does not fall to pieces when the going gets tough. George Osborne and Michael Gove were both on the front bench with him. One MP told me he saw Eric Pickles in the
corridors, giving Fox a hug that almost killed him. All this reflects well on them: in politics, it’s always worth noting who stands by colleagues, and who scarpers, when it hits the fan. Fox has,
finally, made the two steps required to get on top of this scandal: an apology, and full disclosure to stop the drip, drip of allegations which was giving this story such lethal momentum.
Every politician has a best friend and confidante, but most put them on the government or party payroll and have done with it. Fox kept Werritty off the taxpayer’s account, but still kept him
around — with very messy results involving very many air miles. Somehow, Werrity managed to keep up with Fox’s exhaustive globetrotting and independently met up with the Defence
Secretary on trips to Singapore, Israel, Spain, Sri Lanka and seven times in the Gulf.

Yes, it looks odd. But what does it all amount to? On Twitter, people who don’t follow politics regularly are asking aloud what the big deal is. This isn’t to say Fox hasn’t screwed up — he
did, big time, and had much to apologise for. Adam Werritty should never have recommended that the Defence Secretary meet anyone, far less someone as toxic as Boulter. Fox should have had a civil
servant with him. He should never have bent the rules on something as hyper sensitive as arms procurement. And he’s paying for it now, given that Boulter has dragged him into this $30 million
blackmail lawsuit with 3M.
Today Fox was today helped immeasurably by Jim Murphy’s surprising uselessness on the attack. The Shadow Defence Secretary was so bad that a friend suggested it was some Scotia Nostra pact where
the Glasgow boy let the East Kilbride boy survive. What actually happened, I think, is that Fox finally, took this disaster seriously and that the Tory party displayed some tribal loyalty.

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The newspapers will keep asking questions, most likely around those 18 trips that
Werritty took and who paid for them. Tomorrow’s Times finds that, far from making millions from all this, Werrity’s company took in just £20,000 in the past four years. So how did
he fund the travel?

But if nothing more significant comes out, then Fox will be safe to fight another day. And hopefully he will have learnt an important lesson: that the best place for a minister’s best friend is at
the end of a bar on a Friday night. As we have seen, anything else is asking for trouble.

UPDATE: When assessing whether Fox will go, CoffeeHousers should factor in that Cameron will do anything he can to avoid a reshuffle this year. From ‘97 to ‘07, any
reshuffle had to balance the Blairites and Brownites — relatively easy. In the coalition era, a reshuffle is a multi-dimensional balancing act with many other people needing to be moved.
Cameron has what I rather unkindly described as a “zombie Cabinet” of
ministers who are no longer trusted, but stay undead in their posts anyway. Move Fox, and you’d have to move a hell of a lot more. A more likely trigger for a reshuffle would be Huhne being
Paul, you make a valid point when you ask if political bias is clouding my view. The Spectator’s motto is ‘firm, but unfair’ and we apply it to all parties. I’m not a
Conservative member, but do consider this government infinitely better than Ed Miliband’s lot. Still, that shouldn’t contort what I judge as acceptable behaviour. My take is that I
think ministers should go if they are incompetent or bugger up reforms. Lansley, I think, is incompetent and should probably go. His inept stewardship of the Health Bill guarantees disaster —
and the end result may be a Dobson-era NHS. That will have far wider implications than an extra vodka martini served up in a Singapore hotel. Fox has wielded the scalpel at the MoD with reluctance
but with force: he is pretty good at his job.  Ideally, ministers should be sacked when demonstrated not to be good at their job. As Steve Richards argues
, government works better if ministers are not sacked for every screw-up.
If it emerges that Werrity was somehow selling access to the Defence Secretary — explicitly or implicitly — then that would be corrupt. The civil service has strong protections for
defence procurement, which should not be circumvented by a “private relationship”. As it stands, this all seems to be a case of Fox’s botched attempt to keep his best friend
nearby but off the taxpayer’s payroll.

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Show comments
  • The Beach Tree

    I apologise, that was mean spirited.

    It’s just so rare to see Hubris ‘rewarded’ quite so quickly these days.

    I think the writers here, Fraser in particular, need to have a good long think about the difference between support and cheerleading.

  • The Beach Tree

    Oh, Dear.

    “in the clear” – yes, indeed.




  • Corinium

    He should have simply put him on the books (so to speak), paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time, like John Wyndham (Lord Egremont), Harold Macmillan’s pal who acted as his private secretary for years.

  • FvH

    Taking a step back it does seem sad that the Spectator (yes the Spectator) should be defending Fox in this way

    Read Harry Cole below – he clearly has higher principles and journalistic integrity than the teenage scribblers here – who have clearly become a bit carried away being so close to their pin ups

  • ButcombeMan

    “this all seems to be a case of Fox’s botched attempt to keep his best friend nearby but off the taxpayer’s payroll”.

    Humbug. He is finished and Cameron just looks weak. He should have called Fox in, for a meeting without coffee and Fox should have resigned within the hour.

  • PayDirt

    Twitter, what’s the big deal, indeed. Probably Werrity was a much better assistant than any crappy Civil Servant. The country’s going down to the muck-raking media and gobby coffeehousers.

  • Pot Head

    If Werrity attending 70 meetings & overseas trips with Fox was Okay- why is it stopping now?

  • FvH

    Interesting analysis Fraser

    – I’ve heard chatter that Labour desperately want Fox to survive – as a thorn in the side of the Cameroons

    – also Murphy wanted to tread very carefully as he (and Labour) didn’t want to overstep the mark – given that the evidence as it stands is not completely damning) – and of course the bond between Fox and Murphy is not just Scottish but West of Scotland / Irish

    – but the horrible conundrum of the Cameroons is the most fascinating aspect of this whole story

    – they are delighted to see Fox under attack but seem genuinely confused as to the best outcome for them

    – on the one hand any Cabinet scandal / resignation reflects badly on No. 10

    – BUT on the other hand Fox is a sworn enemy of Dave and his Wet Set

    – YET – the Hilton/Cameron/Osborne cabal worry about him departing to brood on the backbenches alongside Davies, Carswell, Hannan et al

    Lots of intriguing twists and turns to come yet

  • JohnPage

    Labour concentrated their fire on Werrity’s knowledge of Fox’s diary. Not the issue. W was a consultant on health when F had a health job, and then moved to defence. W gets privileged access to the MoD & overseas meetings. Why?

    W’s finances are also going to be an important issue. The only thing we know W did was his business card, and that was way beyond acceptable. What else was?

    It’s not over, because journalists won’t be as useless as Labour MPs.

  • EC

    Frank P,

    I was trying to be satirical. Fraser’s magnificent rearguard action in defence of Mr Fox reminded me of TD.

    You’ll have noticed that the heinous Fatbloke on tour always refers to TD as “failed blogger” and Fraser as “Trevor”. Anyway, on this occasion, I stole his idea. (File this one under under Kris K, “Beat the devil”)

  • Jim P

    Not sure if “full disclosure” is an accurate description of Fox’s comments so far.

  • Chris

    Alan Campbell, I see you’re using your word of the day here as well as at the Telegraph. I’ve got one for you: numpty.

  • Frank P


    Don’t see the knickers waving comment by ‘Trevor’ you allude to. Surely TrevorsDen has not been blue pencilled?

  • Nicholas

    Looks like Cameron & Crew are going to continue New Labour’s fine tradition of never resigning whatever the scandal but “offering” apologies instead. Just about sums up the craven state of our politics and this country. If Fox had made a public remark about any of the taboo subjects likely to cause hair trigger outrage from all the usual suspects he would be gone by now. All about what is said never what is done. A vast silent majority held hostage by a collection of gobby and influential minorities.

  • Frank P

    The Daily Mash is very supportive of the good Doctor:


    Well … sorta!

  • Boudicca

    “Yes, it looks odd”

    No it doesn’t: it stinks.

    How was Werritty funding his globetrotting so he could be by the side of his best friend? What was he getting out of it? Fox says there was no transactional benefit, careful words which mean payment, so he was obviously getting something else. What was it – future Contracts? Who knows. But we should and I hope the Media keep digging because this kind of abuse of the Ministerial Code should not be excused when the Minister involved says ‘sorry, I made a mistake.’

    As for every politicians has a close friend and confidente – maybe. But they don’t have to be young men who trot around the world after them. At the very least, Fox has shown deplorable judgement – and that is the last ‘quality’ we need in a Sec of State for Defence.

  • EC

    Great job, Trevor. Keep waving your knickers long enough and someone is going to take you up on your offer.

    You’d think that, after the 2009 MPs expenses scandal, the class of 2010 – 2015 would be making an extra effort to be squeaky clean. Inviting boy scouts inside the MOD to buff up the cannons shows a serious lack of judgement- whether or not it’s Bob-a-Job week.

  • alan campbell

    Tory lickspittle.

  • David Lindsay

    This Government is Blairite. The Opposition isn’t. So the universally Blairite media will let this Government get away with absolutely anything at all. Even this.

  • daniel maris

    Come off it Fraser. He’ll be gone within a week. Something else will come up and he’ll have to go.

    The whole set up was wrong, wrong, wrong and broke the Ministerial code in all sorts of ways.

  • Craig Strachan

    “the Glasgow boy let the East Kilbride boy survive”

    Would never happen.

  • Steve Tierney

    I reckon he’ll stick around and, to be honest, I think that’s probably the right decision.

    It’s not like he got somebody else to take his speeding points by lying to the police or something.

  • Alles Klar

    The heading is presumably a scottish version of cockney rhyming slang.

  • paul

    why do i get the feeling if fox was from a different political party,fraser nelson wouldn’t be quite so forgiving?

  • Jayu

    The Cameroons know Fox is finished, they know the necessity of going through this pretence of support, before finally letting the hounds go for the kill.

  • AJC

    I think you are wrong: Fox is not home and dry and GOD will have further mistakes to report.

    It is also clear that at least one head at the top of the Mod should roll – Ursula Brennan – she knew and did nothing or she wasn’t aware – unless she told GOD she clearly isn’t fit for purpose.

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