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In defence of Liam Fox

10 October 2011

The feeding frenzy over Liam Fox tells us a great deal more about what is wrong with the
Conservative Party than it does about Dr. Fox. The Defence Secretary has been an ass. He admits that he allowed “distinctions to be blurred” between his “professional
responsibilities and [his] personal loyalties to a friend”. But if someone has known you and counselled you and worked for you over the years it is all but impossible to maintain such
distinctions when you are in power. You just have to cut them off, brutally. Fox’s biggest weakness, and one which was well known before this, is that he is too kind. You might say he is too
human. It made him a good doctor. But in the higher echelons of politics or business it is a fault. Against that, Fox is brave and highly principled. He is also unswervingly personally honest
— a point which incidentally, albeit tacitly, is assumed by his harshest public critics.

What can be said against him is that, as Defence Secretary, Fox has played his full part in cutting Britain’s defence establishment in a manner that he would not have envisaged when in
Opposition, and which he must surely know in his heart is wrong. This is, indeed, a serious matter, far more serious than who he met on a trip to Dubai. Perhaps he should have resigned when told to
make defence cuts. But he is ambitious and he did not. He is also historically in good company. In the early 1970s, Margaret Thatcher (along with Keith Joseph) subordinated her instinctive
convictions and stayed in office, while Edward Heath embarked on a collectivist economic experiment whose disastrous effects she would spend years later having to repair. She hung on and she saved

This Thatcher connection goes beyond the circumstantial parallel. Liam Fox is, in fact, the only recognisably Thatcherite Conservative in the Cabinet. He places a Scottish libertarian imprint on
her philosophy, but despite all pressure to do so, he has never wavered in his belief that her years in government provide a model to restore Britain’s fortunes. Moreover, Fox is not a Right
Wing dullard. He is clever, articulate, funny, presentable and popular, at least outside Westminster, and if he, rather than David Davis, had squeezed into the final round of the leadership contest
with David Cameron he could well have won.

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And the modernising faction, who controls the party today, cannot forget this. Fox is dangerous to them. If Cameron were to fall, Fox, not Osborne or some other malleably plastic figure, could take

Hence the cat and mouse game played by No. 10. Whether it would be better to keep him, weakened and humiliated, and so biddable (like poor William Hague), or whether it would be better to discard
Fox altogether, must be the primary question in the leadership’s mind.

But the leadership should be careful. Randolph Churchill coined the phrase “the Eden Terror” to describe the fear that Anthony Eden’s irascible whims imposed on the party and the
Tory press. Terror is unstable and Eden’s rule proved fragile. The recognisably acrid smell of fear is perceptible now. No one, it seems, will speak out for Fox, because no one wants to
displease what are assumed to be the unexpressed wishes of No 10.

So Tory MPs face a choice. This afternoon and in succeeding days those in the parliamentary party who do not wish it to be turned into a social liberal party without roots, traditions or a sense of
national destiny ought to speak out. And even the party managers might be advised to have second thoughts. If conservatism — on Europe, immigration, tax, marriage, law and order and much else
— is finally seen to have no place at the top of the party, many with conservative views and instincts may go elsewhere. History shows that it is remarkably easy to lose elections.

Robin Harris is a former member of the Conservative Research Department and Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit. 

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Show comments
  • HampsteadOwl

    What a very curious article.

    The first half sets out the best defence I have read of Fox’s actions, rooted in his personal qualities, rather than the selective sifting of obtruse technicalities. But then it takes flight into what is apparently a call to arms to the Thatcherite right, in the next few days, if not hours, to take back the Party.

    Are the right ready for this? Have they chosen their ground, their issues, their leaders? Have they remembered to pack sandwiches?

    Robin Harris’ mind was always a fabulous thing, opening onto terraces of enlightenment out of bounds to more mundane plodders. Even so, I do wonder whether, if Liam Fox is indeed the only Thatcherite left in the vanguard , whether it is the moment to launch the coup when he is flat on his back and mired in scandal.

  • Bill Brinsmead

    Robin, Fox would be mortified to be described as a ‘.. libertarian’. His manner, temper and philosophy is definitely authoritarian – that’s why he is popular with the Tory authoritarian right as represented by Tim Montgomerie and the like.

  • Tiberius

    “…and if he, rather than David Davis, had squeezed into the final round of the leadership contest with David Cameron he could well have won”.

    Keep ’em coming – my sides are splitting.

    And I agree with Mycroft.

  • FvH

    Dear Robin

    many of us on here have already reached the conclusion that Conservatism has no place at the head of the party

    this Fox “hunt” by No. 10 has just confirmed this

  • NeilM

    I would suggest that the revelations about Fox’s “relationship” with Werritty which have emerged will put paid to any idolisation of him by the Tory right-wing who, despite Cameron’s declaration about gay marriage, still (hypocritically as we have seen) loath any whiff of homosexuality.

  • nonny mouse

    The real job at defence is getting more bang for the buck, literally. It is not protecting the MOD from the treasury.

    Fox should have cut the defence budget further. We spend too big a % of GDP on defence.

    He should have done more to fix the procurement problem – for the amount of money that we spend on defence we should be getting a lot more.

  • DavidDP

    So, basically, because he’s Thatcherite, all is forgiven.


  • M. Rowley

    ‘If conservatism — on Europe, immigration, tax, marriage, law and order and much else — is finally seen to have no place at the top of the party, many with conservative views and instincts may go elsewhere.’

    Some of us went ages ago when Cameron and his millionaire chums took over the party.

  • Mycroft

    What a lot of rubbish, as if the whole future of the Conservative party turned on the fate of Fox (who has been a second-rate defence secretary and been foolish enough to get himself into the present mess). Few oustside a right-wing faction within the political bubble would regret his passing.

  • strapworld

    But how can Cameron sack him with so many of his cabinet expenses cheats…that was/is corruption..people have been imprisoned, yet friends of Call me Dave survive..others do not.

    Was Hague’s male friend paid anything?

  • Framer

    This is absurd. Hiring a researcher/aide and paying them out of your MP expenses is not corrupt, it is what the expenses are for.

  • Wily Trout

    Seven of the Page 1 articles are on Dr Fox. Enough already. It’s not THAT interesting, especially compared with some of the stuff in the papers this morning. Pop that bubble!

  • Henry Young

    Ask him why his dodgy charity Atlantic Bridge was taken offline rather than face questioning of what it actually does. We want full disclosure. We pay his salary. As employer, we the taxpayer demand it. Politicians…SELF-SERVING & ROTTEN TO THE CORE..once elected, they think they are above us, that we should be serving them instead of us, that we should be addressing them as Lords, Mr Secretary, etc. Try doing this to your employer in the real business world. I bet they are still rampant on the expenses claims with so much other stuff over-shadowing their little gravy-train activities.

  • onwemarch

    Nice to see far-right revisionist history is now so entrenched that phrases like “She hung on and she saved Britain” can now be bandied about as fact.
    You destroy your argument before it’s even begun.

  • Dr Subroto Roy

    Might I recommend for sustenance the 2005 book by Continuum *Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant* edited by myself and John Clarke?

  • NeilM

    I was say too corrupt, rather than too kind.

  • mike

    Liam Fox gave public money to his friend Adam Werritty, according to this news report:

    This is corruption. He must resign now.

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