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MoD to the left of him, Treasury to the right: Can Fox survive his Charge of Cuts?

By Tim Montgomerie

TelegraphFoxLiam Fox has called it “the absolute mother of horrors of a spending review” and in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the Defence Secretary has begun to spell out what the horror might mean. “We don’t have the money as a country to protect ourselves against every potential future threat,” he told the newspaper, “We just don’t have it.”

Dr Fox will not have to make cuts as large as other Whitehall departments (cuts are likely to be nearer 10% than 25% over the Parliament) and his budget is fully protected this year. Nonetheless the cuts will be painful and The Economist has summarised some of the implications of the simultaneous defence and spending reviews:

  • "The army may have to give up whole brigades, armoured formations and artillery units;
  • The air force is considering abandoning maritime surveillance aircraft and retiring its fleet of Tornado strike aircraft and Harrier jump-jets;
  • The navy may be made to give up the Royal Marines and amphibious landing ships; and the submarines carrying the nuclear deterrent may be cut from four to three."

According to The Economist the Ministry of Defence have drafted three broad options for the future of the UK military:

  • "At one end is “Vigilant Britain”, which sets itself a smallish set of military tasks to defend the homeland: protect its airspace and national waters, fight terrorists at home, though still retaining the semblance of a world-wide diplomatic network, the ability to stage short, small-scale interventions (usually in “permissive” environments) and a nuclear deterrent.
  • At the other extreme is “Committed Britain”, with roughly the capabilities it has now: a blue-water navy, and deep strike air force and substantial deployable forces able to wage a major war in distant places.
  • Inevitably, the likeliest option seems to be the middle road, “Adaptable Britain”, though someone will probably think up a snazzier label."

Within The Telegraph piece there is discussion of 30,000 servicemen being axed and controversial cutbacks in procurement. “Either companies reduce the costs or we cancel whole projects,” Fox warns.

FOX-LIAM-C&N Fox, Gove and IDS are seen to be the most vulnerable of the Cabinet by many commentators. I think all three are actually pretty safe. Today is not the day to examine the strengths of the Welfare and Education Secretaries but let me briefly examine why Fox is (and should be) secure in his portfolio:

  • He was beset by rumours about his future throughout his time as Shadow Defence Secretary. He certainly has critics within Cameron's circle but Cameron knows that Dr Fox is a formidable operator. George Osborne became a stronger Fox ally after the latter became his loudest and fastest defender during Yacht-gate. Cameron, himself, has often used Fox as a political shield - enlisting him, for example to reassure the Right during grammars-gate and the Lisbon policy announcement.
  • With IDS and Owen Paterson he represents the more traditional Right around the Cabinet table. Since Herbert and Grayling were demoted from the top table the Right feels under-represented and Fox would be very difficult to replace. His support for Trident is a particularly important source of his support within the wider party.
  • It's also true that differences between Fox and Cameron can be overstated. This article by Michael Gove in 2005 notes the significant overlaps between the positions of the then leadership rivals. It is sometimes forgotten that Fox was the originator of the 'Broken Society' soundbite and a key advocate of a more compassionate conservatism.
  • Team Cameron have understandably invested heavily in Democrat Party contacts in recent years. If America swings towards the Republicans in the next few years Fox has an unrivalled address book of GOP connections that will prove very useful.
  • He (and David Willetts) are important sources of continuity around the Cabinet table; no other member of Cameron's team having served throughout the opposition years.


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