Conservative Intelligence

Conservative Intelligence

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Dr Liam Fox

Position: Secretary of State for Defence 2010

Last Updated: Friday, October 1st, 2010

  • Liam Fox has been MP for North Somerset (formerly Woodspring) since 1992.
  •  He served first as a Whip and then as a Foreign Office Minister in John Major’s Government.
  • Under William Hague’s leadership he was first Spokesman on Constitutional Affairs and then Shadow Health Secretary. (Fox is by profession a medical doctor.)  When Michael Howard became Conservative leader in 2003, he was appointed as a Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party.  After the 2005 election, he served as Shadow Foreign Secretary, becoming Shadow Defence Secretary under David Cameron’s leadership. 
  • With Iain Duncan Smith, Fox is the most senior Cabinet member of the Conservative Party’s right-wing.  He ran for the Party’s leadership against Cameron, coming last in a field of four candidates, but none the less running a vigorous campaign that confirmed his status as one of the Party’s “big beasts”.
  • Fox is essentially a Thatcherite, supporting a smaller state, the free market, law and order, and the special relationship with the United States (he has a longstanding involvement with the charity Atlantic Bridge).  However, he’s a special interest in social justice issues, such as mental health, and campaigned during the leadership election to heal “the broken society” – a concept and phrase that he promoted energetically.
  • Fox is currently engaged in a tense Cabinet battle with the Treasury and 10 Downing Street over the Strategic Defence Review, the Comprehensive Spending Review, the relationship between the two – and the future of the Armed Forces.  This week, a letter from the Defence Secretary to David Cameron warning that draft cuts are “financially and intellectually virtually impossible”, and that if implemented they would have “grave political consequences” for us was leaked to the Daily Telegraph.  A police investigation is taking place, and there’s irrepressible speculation about Fox’s future.
  • The Defence Secretary is being asked to make a reduction of about 10 per cent in his planned budget, at a time when Health and International Development have obtained special protection, but most other departments face cuts of up to a quarter.  A key issue seems to be whether or not “Adaptable Britain” – a defence posture based on a nuclear deterrent, aircraft carriers, tanks and a deployable ground force can be delivered on the budget that seems to be available.  Downing Street seems to be questioning whether the Royal Navy needs two planned aircraft carriers plus U.S joint strike fighters.  Senior military chiefs are reported to be pleased by Fox’s intervention on their behalf.
  • Fox is in one sense in a weak position.  As some commentators have pointed out, he promised a 25 per cent budget reduction in Opposition, based on cutting costs in the Defence Ministry’s large procurement operation.  It’s also hard to see a bright future for him on the backbenches, since a future majority Conservative Government under new leadership looks a remote prospect.  However, he is in other senses well placed.  Defence is a popular cause on the Conservative backbenches and among Party members.  Cameron needs Fox as an emissary to the Conservative Right – a mission he fulfilled during the destabilising Party row, in Opposition, over policy on school selection.  He won’t want a right-wing heavyweight making trouble on the back benches.  He also needs to maintain a right-wing Cabinet presence to counter that of the Liberal Democrats.
  • The most likely outcome of this week’s row is a strong speech by the Defence Secretary to next week’s Conservative Conference, and a settlement afterwards with Downing Street – after which Fox will brief that he’s won.  The Defence Secretary is likely to remain in the Cabinet as long as Cameron needs him there to keep the Conservative Right happy – unless he quits of his own accord.  Stranger things have happened in politics.

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