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The Tory Right after Liam Fox

By Tim Montgomerie
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Fox Liam ConHome

I gave my initial reaction to Liam Fox's resignation yesterday evening. Drawing on comment in today's newspapers here are a few other thoughts.

The Thatcherite Right are outside the tent and Osborne's power grows

"These Thatcherite Tories already felt under-represented in a Government led by a Macmillanite Old Etonian; Mr Cameron must be careful that, with Dr Fox on the back benches, this wing of his party does not become even more isolated." - Telegraph leader

Just three weeks ago Lady Thatcher made a rare public appearance at Liam Fox's 50th birthday party. It was a very visible sign that Dr Fox was one of the Thatcherite guard. The ex-Defence Secretary now joins a long list of traditional right-wingers who sit outside the tent. That list includes Graham Brady, David Davis, Michael Forsyth, Edward Leigh, Michael Howard, Peter Lilley and John Redwood. The likes of Davis and Redwood must surely now realise that it's very unlikely they will ever join Cameron's top table? Philip Hammond and Justine Greening are on the party's Right but their modus operandi is obedience to the leadership and to George Osborne in particular. Loyalty is a good thing but they are not made in Liam Fox's freethinking image. They will do the Treasury's bidding. Hammond, in particular, is super competent. He is best equipped to continue the reform of procurement that Fox and Bernard Gray, Chief of Defence Materiel, have begun. But will Hammond fight the Treasury if the Chancellor asks for more cuts in a year or two? He might, I don't know, but in losing Dr Fox the Ministry has lost someone who was willing to risk his career for the armed forces and its interests.

The civil service have become a little more powerful

"Nowadays, empowered to investigate their own ministers, the civil servants are in charge of their masters’ conduct." - Charles Moore in The Telegraph

The most successful ministers rely hugely on political advice. Gove's education revolution would have been impossible without the likes of the street-fighting Dominic Cummings at his side. IDS (the clear leader of the Right in Cabinet now) has brought in key members of his Centre for Social Justice think tank into the DWP. Eric Pickles relies on Sheridan Westlake and Giles Kenningham to be his shock troops in his battle with unimaginative local council leaders and Whitehall bureaucrats. Political advisers are hated by the civil service but they are vital to successful ministers. Fox got into trouble by attempting to create some sort of unofficial political strategy unit around Adam Weritty. We should be flooding Whitehall with people who can help ministers to deliver their agendas. Instead - unless you are a Liberal Democrat - there is a draconian cap on the numberr of special advisers and the civil service are in charge of most ministers. Putting them in charge of overseeing ministers' conduct only gives them more power. 

Will Fox return? 

"The Mail hopes that, after a spell on the backbenches, this able man will return to the Cabinet to make a major contribution both to his party and country." - Daily Mail leader

In today's FT (£) Philip Stephens concludes (£) that "the appearance, if not the fact, of impropriety was fatal." Dr Fox can return to the frontline of politics if that stays true. I expect it to. I'd be shocked if Fox was involved in any corruption. In time I hope Fox can become a powerful advocate of authentic conservatism from the backbenchers. In particular I think of his belief in the Atlantic alliance, of the threat posed to Israel by a nuclear Iran and also his belief that low taxes are essential to economic competitiveness. He is certainly a diminished figure today but he can prosper again if he learns lessons.

A new generation emerges

"The PM is secure and he knows it; but for reasons both of fairness and of propriety he hasn’t wanted to sack a capable man capriciously. This may have been a sad moment for the Prime Minister, but it was not a particularly tricky one. For the Conservative Right, however, it could be both important and finally transformative. It could put an end to their hankering for leadership from within the older generation." - Matthew Parris in The Times (£)


The read of the today can be found behind The Times' paywall. Matthew Parris urges the Right to look beyond the old generation of right-wingers and towards the Class of 2010 (for ConHome the most powerful force in today's party). Describing the new cohort of Tory MPs as the most impressive he can remember he wonders if the next Tory leader will come from their number. We should never forget that Cameron became Tory leader just four years after entering parliament. Cameron's successor might not be Boris or Osborne or Hunt but one of the 2010 intake. Yesterday, one of the new cohort - Sajid Javid - became the Chancellor's PPS. That's a huge sign that Osborne sees the MP for Bromsgrove as a man of the future. Javid replaces the brilliant Greg Hands who moves on to the Whip's Office. The new Economic Secretary to the Treasury is Chloe Smith. She's the sole member of the Class of 2009 - elected as MP for Norwich North in that year's by-election. Cameron is starting to do what Ed Miliband did a week earlier and promote from the new and very talented post-expenses generation of MPs. The Prime Minister is also clearly favouring women. The Tory press operation was keen for commentators to note that Justine Greening is the Cabinet's fifth woman minister. If you want to get on in today's Tory Party it's more helpful to be called Christina Grayling than Chris Grayling.


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