If I had a vote in today’s ballot of Tory MPs I’d be voting for Liam Fox. I think he deserves to progress to the final stages of this contest although I fear that the list of public declarations suggests that his campaign will, unfortunately, end within a few hours, or on Thursday.
Here are my reasons for endorsing Dr Fox today:
Liam is an authentic Conservative. He believes in lower taxation but knows that tax relief can only be part of a wider ‘prosperity agenda’. He takes an uncompromising approach to crime and drugs. He is a principled Eurosceptic and has confirmed this Euroscepticism with a commitment to disentangle Tory MEPs from the Old Europeanism of the EPP. A party led by Liam would be built on the rock of these core Conservative commitments but it wouldn’t stop there.
Liam understands that the core beliefs, described above, and which have characterised conservatism since the Thatcher years, are not enough. Both Liam and David Cameron have embraced the And Theory Of Conservatism and its belief in a more compassionate politics. Liam’s idea of mending the ‘broken society’ was unfairly characterised as gloomy by yesterday’s FT. But for many people - who can’t afford to read Companies & Markets - life is pretty grim. Ignoring the real problems in British society may be an option for a newspaper that caters to a dwindling number of metropolitan readers but it cannot be an option for a political party that aspires to govern for the whole nation. Liam’s heart for the socially excluded – particularly for victims of domestic violence and the mentally unwell – could drive the socially just conservatism that could transform the electoral prospects of our party.
Liam is a hawk in the war on terror. The world has always been full of evil men but, as Peggy Noonan wrote some time before 9/11, it is gravely dangerous today because of the relative ease with which those men can get hold of portable weaponry of devastating power. Dr Fox understands this risk and the need to pre-empt the danger that rogue regimes – like Saddam’s Iraq - will feed international networks of terror. He has stood firm on Iraq throughout his brief time as Shadow Foreign Secretary and he could rebuild the Conservative Party’s relationship with the White House that became so sour during Michael Howard’s leadership. I hope he would use that renewed relationship to combine the USA’s commitment to technology-driven environmentalism with the sense of urgency that Europeans bring to this vital issue.
Liam believes in party democracy. He was late in declaring his opposition to the planned disenfranchisement of party members – perhaps out of loyalty to his friend Michael Howard – but he eventually came out in favour of an electoral college. An electoral college falls well short of the open primary, mass connections system of party democracy promoted by Theresa May (and latterly by Francis Maude) but it is better than that offered by his rivals for the Tory crown. David Davis supports a role for members in the first round(s) of voting but believes that MPs, and MPs only, should make the final decision. David Cameron hasn’t declared his view. Ken Clarke’s leading backers first called for the rollback of party democracy and then fell silent when they realised that their man had little chance of prospering amongst Tory MPs.
Liam is pro-life. An in pro-life I’m not just meaning he opposes abortion and euthanasia. I mean his commitment to defend the right to life and liberty of everyone. For Dr Fox a pro-life philosophy includes better care for the mentally ill but also those people in faraway lands whose human rights are abused. Right-to-die campaigns are gathering pace in Britain and Dr Fox, whilst upholding freedom of conscience on these issues for the parliamentary party, could help public opinion to see how a right-to-die easily becomes a duty-to-die. Liam’s willingness to raise the issues of abortion and human rights has a wider significance to me. I doubt focus groups advised him to talk about reducing the number of abortions (nearly 200,000 in Britain last year). The fact that he still did shows he has the courage and authenticity that British politics needs after the spin’n’squander of the Blair years.
The online poll run by conservativehome suggests that I’m in disagreement with 82% of my readers. All I can promise is that I’ll keep my opinions to the Editorials and Good Week, Bad Week features and will attempt to keep the news postings as free of bias as humanly possible. There are, of course, concerns as to whether Liam Fox is experienced and substantial enough to be Tory leader. I have sympathy with those concerns but they apply to David Davis and David Cameron, too. Ken Clarke is undoubtedly up to the job but I struggle with his record on Europe and his opposition to the liberation of Iraq.