Friday, 14 October 2011
Liam Fox and the Best Man Scandal
So, we won’t have to wait until next week for the findings of the investigation, conducted by Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, into whether Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, has broken the UK government’s Ministerial code and what his fate will be. Fox has bowed to the inevitable and announced his resignation from the government.
Over the last few days, more and more stories have been published on a daily basis by the media, about the extent of Fox’s involvement with his ‘best man’ Adam Werritty, and the numerous official overseas trips they have been on together. This use of the term ‘best man’ is mildly amusing, given that it has clearly been used to send an unambiguously ‘I’m not gay’ signal, rather than just saying ‘friend’. This betrays the homophobic tendency on the right wing of the Tory party, of which Fox was a leading light, whatever the Prime Minister, David Cameron says about a new, un-bigoted Conservative party.
It does seem pretty clear that Fox had broken the Ministerial code, as by his own admission he apologised to the House of Commons this week for ‘giving an impression of wrong-doing, and ….having given the misleading impression that Mr Werritty was an official adviser, rather than simply a friend’. 1.2 and 7.1 of the code says that Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests. Amongst all the weasel worded spin from Fox about ‘blurring’ the distinctions between his public and private life, he has admitted to at least giving the appearance of a conflict of interest.
When senior civil servants report on these types of investigations into ministers, they couch the language in a very diplomatic way, deliberately leaving open the interpretation of their words, and so passing the verdict to their political masters. So, it was always really down to the Prime Minister to decide Fox’s ultimate fate, in the absence of Fox taking a loaded revolver into his study, and doing the decent thing.
Important though the Ministerial code is, to my mind that’s not the whole point, and I hope the investigation continues and examines what exactly Werritty was doing on all of these official British Ministry of Defence visits to foreign defence ministries and their armed forces. Werritty is said to have a range of business links in the defence field, so it seems obvious to me that he was on these visits to try and win arms contracts, on the back of official British government defence visits. I do not believe that Fox was unaware of this situation, and if this is not corrupt, and it sounds like it is, it is certainly inappropriate and demonstrates extremely poor judgement on Fox’s behalf, which is enough for him to be removed from such high government office.
Michael Portillo, ex Tory Defence Secretary, said on Thursday on the BBC’s, A week in politics show, that he couldn’t see how Fox could keep his job in the circumstances, and surely this chimed with public opinion.
But there is more to this situation than the Defence Minister’s involvement in dodgy arms deals. Fox (and Werritty) have contacts with American neo con politicians and business men, and The Times newspaper reports that some of Werritty’s business trips to Israel have been paid for by a pro-Israeli lobby company. Fox is on the neo con wing of the Tory party and has had much support from right wing Tory backbenchers, who have been very vocal in defence of Fox’s actions, both in Parliament and in the media this week.
All of which probably explains why the Prime Minister hadn’t sacked Fox already, for what is quite clearly behaviour inappropriate for a minister of state. This makes Cameron look weak, and calls into question his own political judgement, not to mention integrity. At the general election last year, Cameron was constantly making speeches about cleaning up politics in the wake of the MP’s expenses scandal, and here we are again. Minister’s lining their own pockets, and that of their friends, whilst passing the bill onto the public. Nothing changes it seems, except the scam itself and the empty rhetoric employed by our leaders in trying to justify it.
Fox tried desperately to hang on to his job, but his position was open to increasingly ridicule, as more of the facts have been revealed. This was not the resignation of an honourable man, it was a calculated act to leave the door open to some future return to a Cabinet post. How long will it be before he is back? There is no shame for our leaders these days, that can’t be swept under the carpet after a year or two on the backbenches.
Photo from The Telegraph