Conservative Diary

« David Cameron wants out of Afghanistan as soon as possible | Main | Liberal Democrats squeezed in two new opinion polls »

What's up with Fox and Cameron?

FOX GESTICULATING Al Muhajiroun is a banned organisation linked to terror plots.  Yet there were no arrests when it recently disrupted a Royal Anglian Regiment homecoming parade.  Complaints that the Theresa May should have urged a police crackdown came at much the same time as praise for her banning of the hate preacher Zakir Naik, and failed to gather volume.  But the Home Office is sensitive on the matter.

Liam Fox hasn't quite said today that the police, the Home Office or both are getting it wrong.  But that's the implication of a speech he's making today to mark Armed Forces Day.  As we noted earlier, he says: "Let's silence the negative voices that attack our Armed Forces but gladly enjoy the security and freedom our Armed Forces provide".  The speech seems to have been briefed out in advance to the Daily Mail.

Fox is right, but his intervention is unlikely to delight the Home Secretary.  It may also be noted by the Prime Minister, with whom the Defence Secretary has had tense dealings recently.  The Daily Telegraph's Con Coughlin wrote a long piece detailing Downing Street's displeasure with Fox's briefing to the Sunday Times of the departure of Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff.

Coughlin also reported that David Cameron intends, unusually, to interview Stirrup's possible replacements himself - thus taking the decision out of the Defence Secretary's hands.  The former Telegraph Foreign Editor appears to have been briefed from sources not far from Number 10, as the Lurcher complained recently on this site.

The Stirrup rumpus followed an altercation over Fox's description in the Times of Afghanistan as a "broken thirteenth century country'.  Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, had little alternative but to defend the work of the international aid agencies, and William Hague stepped in to ensure that a common Government position was agreed.

A separate flurry over the Defence Secretary's appointment of Luke Coffey, a former U.S Army Captain, as his special adviser should be waved away as Labour mischief-making.  But the raising of eyebrows over another post can't be so easily dimissed. Tobias Ellwood was recently made Fox's PPS.  He's a committed Cameron loyalist - one of the very few MPs to declare early for him during the 2005 leadership election - and one might be forgiven for thinking that an eye is being kept on the Defence Secretary.

The Cabinet has been a harmonious body to date, despite (some might say because) of the presence within it of two political parties.  The Cameron-Fox relationship seems to be an exception.  The Kremlinology of who leaked what to whom when is invariably tedious, but I've cited some stories in detail here to indicate that Cameron and Fox don't always see eye to eye, and that briefing against the Defence Secretary seems to have taken place.

A lot of attention's focused at the moment on the dealings between the Prime Minister and his coalition partners.  There are two main ways of thinking about the Government which they jointly form.  One is to picture it as consisting of those two parts only - the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  Another is to see it as made up of three - the Liberal Democrats, the Tory right and, somewhere between them, the Cameron leadership, which must find an accommodation between them.

As Tim noted recently, the Conservative right doesn't have a leader.  Iain Duncan Smith and Fox are probably its two most senior members.  If Fox were to think that his best means of establishing himself as the right's champion - and making himself unsackable at the same time - was to take a few risks, it wouldn't be at all surprising.

It's only possible to imagine one of Fox and Duncan Smith leading the Party in the future - an unlikely prospect in either case - and it isn't the man who's led it before.  Over the next few months, and with a testing Defence Review taking place, it will be worth watching how the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary are getting on.

Paul Goodman


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.