Liam Fox: The first post ‘Screws’ resignation?

I was talking to a young Conservative councillor in London yesterday, who asked me if I thought the Defence Minster would survive… At the time, I reckoned, not having taken a huge interest in the Westminster gossip (or the conflicting prognoses emanating from the Guido household), that it was pretty clear he wouldn’t (or rather shouldn’t). But for only one specific reason.

Dr Fox’s friend Adam Wherritty had casual access to the Secretary of State (styling himself advisor on some business cards) and the Ministry of Defence, without ever having signed the Official Secrets Act. Never mind, the money trail appears to have been so modest, he traded on his close friendship his unofficial, official status was a serious misjudgement.

But for me, that’s not the remarkable thing about this story.  It is purely that this is one of the few public scandal’s broken by the British press – and fair play to the Independent who broke the story – on a point of almost pure public interest, without any undue focus on the character of Fox’s friendship with Wherritty (which is no one’s business but the two men concerned).

The News of the World’s (their cash and deep pocketed capacity for endless fishing) absence should be noted… If this is the beginning of a new era in British journalism which begins to pay more attention to the public interest and much less to the private lives politicians, that can only be a good thing

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  • No its not a new era.
    The Press will obviously be more careful while that Lordship is conducting his Inquiry but when the dust has settled the Press will settle back to a default closer to Kelvin McKenzies thinking (as articulated earlier this week).
    There are actually two scandals here. And as the impressive Sean Dilley is that his name?) pointed out on reviewing the papers on BBC24 last night…the next big scandal after expenses etc is “lobbying”.

    Who exactly are the “friends of USA” and “friends of Israel” and “people with an interest in Sri Lanka” who bankroll someone to the tune of £147,000 to travel the world as an occasional advisor. Whats in it for the backers?

    And is this typical of Westminster? There is a high minded scandal and because there is one we can overlook the secondary lower minded one. (but lets be aware that even without the high minded one……there is a case of arguing that a friend has been favoured). Clearly the Media can afford to be high minded in this instance.

    But Dilley went on to state……impressively…..that whatever his politics, Liam Fox was a favourite in the Lobby Office and that there was asense of sadness at his being brought down.
    Obviously and correctly he pointed out that no self respecting journalist would act in a manner which displayed political or personal favouritism.
    But three things.
    This Wherrity Scandal is exactly the sort of thing for which a politician should be booted out of Office.
    The principled stand of Lobby Journalists not giving into their own support/animosity for a politician is in stark contrast to other examples seen or alleged this week.
    And should journalists be following up on the influence of “lobbyists”? Back in 1970, the old A level “Economics and Political Studies”subject did not even mention “lobbying” except the clichéd example of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds being consulted on legislation and how benign all this kinda thing is.
    In 40 odd years, lobbyists have got under the radar of the system. And time the Spotlight fell on them. Have journalists got the inclination or courage?

  • fjh, here’s a link to that Sean Lilley take on the Fox resignation story. Sean is a parliamentary lobby journalist so he’s probably got a front row seat at the lobby circus.

    You’ll probably remember that I’ve drawn attention to the Thursday Club better but not terribly well known as the Northern Ireland Assembly Business Trust. Do we have many PLJs? Perhaps Sean could offer them some advice.

  • Comrade Stalin

    fjh,

    Agreed with that, there are a lot of unanswered questions here.

    In fact I rather suspect that part of Fox’s motivation for resigning, rather than fighting, is because he wants to draw a line to stop any further scrutiny of these matters.

    The whole thing about Wherrity is highly suss. Ministers do have a fair bit of levity to appoint their pals officially as special advisors, getting them security cleared and signed up as government employees. So why didn’t Fox simply do that ? If he had, there simply would have been no story.

  • “pay more attention to the public interest and much less to the private lives [of] politicians”

    Mick, turning it around, politicians and other public servants should pay more attention to the public interest and much less to their and their cronies private lives and demands. Was this failing not the cause of Fox’s resignation?

  • Nevin,
    Thanks for this. It would be interesting to know just when the last time some MPs, TDs or MLAs paid for a lunch and to get a look at the expense accounts of lobbyists and the charidees (eh?) for whom they work.Would a journalist bite the hand that occasionally feeds?

    Lilley is very impressive.
    Certainly wasted on Talksport. Move over Boulton, Robinson, Bradby.

  • “on a point of almost pure public interest

    Mick, just a brief point for future consideration. Your focus is on journalists and politicians but journalists (and politicians) could also act in the public interest by looking at the closeness of watchdogs to public servants.