Friday, 1 October 2010

Fox hot to trot?

All governments have internal rows, which is a normal part of the process. There are always conflicting interests, financial, personal or political. Therefore, the disagreements that have arisen between Ian Duncan Smith at Work and pensions, or Vince Cable at Business, are part of the regular to and fro you'd expect between departments and the treasury.

However, the dispute that has arisen between Liam Fox at defence and David Cameron, seems to have elements of all three. There are two elements to the financial aspects, firstly the decision by the treasury that the funding for trident should come out of the defence budget, whilst Fox feels it should come out of central funds, which is the normal procedure in these cases.

The second is found in the letter leaked earlier this week and published in the Telegraph. Fox states;

"Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a “super CSR” (Comprehensive Spending Review). If it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years. Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war."

Now it is possible to see absolutely nothing sinister in this letter, as it comes over as a senior cabinet minister defending his department against proposed cuts.
However, when linked to the political and personal aspects, a larger picture emerges.

He is placed very much on the right of the Conservative Party, with an attitude that makes fewer concessions to modern society that David Cameron is prepared to. Indeed, it is amusing reading this article from 2005, that Cameron does not feature at all

Liam Fox has since then been antagonistic to Cameron, who emerged from nowhere to snatch the leadership in 2005. He felt that he was amongst the big three, along with David Davis and Ken Clarke, one of whom the crown would fall on. But he was forced aside and has felt more and more sidelined ever since. There were rumours that he might not even become Defence Secretary following the formation of the coalition, and so he may always feel he is on borrowed time. he may think David Cameron is just waiting for a decent interval before demoting him, or moving him out of the cabinet altogether.

So we have there a combination of the political and the personal which cannot be separated. It seems unlikely to me, however, that Cameron would sack Fox as he would be both a martyr for the right, and it would not look good to sack ministers defending their departments against cuts.

It could all erupt at next week's Tory party Conference in Birmingham, and if Fox feels he has nothing to lose, he may well use it to not only speak up for his department, but to launch a coded attack on the way he feels that Cameron has taken the party.

As the negotiations were underway, Fox, who wasn't a member of the team, was taking a much less conciliatory line, on electoral reform especially, and may well feel that the Tories have given too much to the Liberal Democrats, with Trident being a key issue;

The way the funding has been changed, is a way of delaying the system, without saying do expressly, and therefore lessening chances of arguments with the Lib Dems over the issue.

So, if Fox believes he has the support of many of the grassroots, who are unhappy about the concessions made in the coalition agreement, could this be the start of a fightback by the right of the party, and he sees himself as the man to lead it?

This though would almost certainly be a mistake, because whatever the form, David Cameron has returned the Conservatives to government, and they are the senior partner. To risk that for purely personal reasons would show that any doubts Cameron has about Fox are confirmed, and he would show himself up, as he has in the past, to suffer severely from lack of judgement.

Now a dance is now underway, and will be more interesting than anything on Strictly Come Dancing which returns this weekend. Perhaps, if he is forced to resign, Dr Fox will be a competitor, and we can see if his actual foxtrot, is better than his political one.

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