That’s as in “Mandy Rice-Davies Applies“.
Fox has gone. We all knew he would.
After the parade comes the man with a broom-and-shovel.
None other than Tim Montgomerie.
His post has three points:
- Cameron has handled the saga well.
- The importance of ideological balance in the Cabinet.
- Fox’s record and future.
Let’s consider those MRDAs further.
The weakest PM since …
… well, the last one.
Since this is a value judgement, Malcolm would suggest “since the dying days of the Callaghan administration”. Yet, even then, Jim Callaghan — a class act — knew that, as Cassius had it:
In the end, Callaghan condoned his own end, by refusing to drag in a dying MP to level the vote.
Cameron, though, has contrived to tie himself to the dying corpse of LibDemmery for a five-year term, and blocked his knock-off by perverting the rules on an early dissolution.
Furthermore, by the intricacies of the coalition agreement, he not only has umpteen policy restraints but he also has the composition of his Cabinet dictated to him. Who, except in extremis, would see Danny “Ginger Rodent” Alexander worthy of promoting from third-tier PR work to the Cabinet?
In the case of the Fox business, Montgomerie has it:
Some say that the Prime Minister has protected Dr Fox because he doesn’t want to look like he treats an embattled politician of the Right any differently from an embattled Liberal Democrat. That probably has been part of Cameron’s calculation but I also understand there’s been real warmth from the PM to his Defence Secretary behind-the-scenes. Nobody on the Right can legitimately say that Dr Fox hasn’t been treated fairly.
Others say, with a shrewder eye to the realities, that Cameron can be none too upset over the demise of a past, and possibly future rival. His shuffling back from full-blown support has been much more:
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.
What Fox was up to amounted to gross insubordination. It now seems he was the centre of a parallel foreign policy cabal, financed by overseas Rightists, dedicated to a neo-Con agenda, with a particular focus on pro-Israeli policies. Werrity was his cut-out, his channel to some very, very suspect characters. The Guardian has a briefing graph to accompany Michael White’s article:
Once upon a time over-ambitious politicos went to the block for less.
Cameron must have known his Defence Secretary was undermining his Foreign Office. Allowing that to persist for the last eighteen months is no sign of strength.
Balancing the Cabinet
Yeah, yeah. All government are, to some extent, coalitions of factions.
The Tory Right is well represented in the present one: at least half-a-dozen names spring to mind. Ben Duckworth did a boilerplate, but workman-like attempt to define the Tory Right for Total Politics. It is of some interest that Duckworeth, writing six months or more ago, had this as his peroration:
Iain Duncan Smith is seeing through vast welfare reforms and Owen Paterson is finding his energies wholly taken up by his Northern Ireland brief. At the lower ministerial level, even the unreconstructed Thatcherites must spend their energies implementing set policies from the coalition agreement. This leaves Liam Fox. The defence secretary “remains a serious player”, says one admirer. Others have their doubts about the lack of a long-term strategy as a leader of the right.
The Tory right may not be a cohesive force. It is split along generational lines, specific issues and personality clashes. It is not really the ‘hang-em and flog-em’ social stereotype either. It is a movable strength in the Conservative Party but one thing David Cameron cannot afford to do, as prime minister of a coalition, is combine it against him. The right will continue to have their say.
No, what Montgomerie is crying out for is not the Tory Right — they are there in force — but more neo-Cons. And they, despite Montgomerie’s hopes and the views of the window-lickers in his comments columns, are rare birds in real UK politics.
That leaves us with Fox’s future
That, in itself, is a test of the other two Montgomerie theses.
If Cameron has played this correctly, and he certainly has played the long game, Fox will have neutralised himself — as David Davis did before.
Fox on the back bec=nches could be a rallying point for the few dissidents (which means disappointed-by-lack-of-promotion) who hang out in those parts.
On the other hand, had he resigned on some matter of principle some while back, he would have been in a far stronger position.
The massed middle-ranks of Tory MPs, now looking towards the second half of this Parliament, have two far bigger thoughts:
- the failure of the current economic strategies;
- the prospects of individual and party re-election.