14 Oct 2011

Who told Fox his time was up?

I puzzle who persuaded Dr Fox the game was up because I thought he was showing little sign of realising it himself. In Libya, last weekend, he looked shaken and nervous. Likewise on his way to the commons for the statement on Monday.

After the statement he was visibly relieved, toasted in the smoking room of the commons and congratulated on his clever escape by political friend and foe alike.

By Tuesday’s cabinet, Dr Fox was looking composed again. He and William Hague spoke about Libya and the Middle East and “you wouldn’t know” there was anything wrong when you heard the defence secretary speak, one cabinet minister told me. At MoD meetings on Tuesday on defence transformation, Dr Fox seemed composed and on top of the detail an MoD source said.

Today, the PM has made it clear that he didn’t try to talk Dr Fox into resigning. His spokesman is even saying that the PM said something along the lines of  “are you sure?” when Dr Fox surprised him with his phone call saying he’d decided to go at around 2.30pm. I wonder how surprised he was.

Behind the scenes the chancellor has been offering solace and advice to Dr Fox. He has also been making sure, I hear, that he is fully informed about the cabinet office investigation into the Adam Werritty affair. George Osborne has been in Manchester and then Paris for the G20 finance ministers meeting over the last 24 hours but he is nothing if not a master of multi-tasking.

Aides admit he has been “involved” in the whole business back home at the MoD but were unable to confirm whether Dr Fox and George Osborne had spoken in the last 24 hours. It would be a funny moment for George Osborne not to be in touch given his role since the story broke in counselling Dr Fox.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond, the new defence secretary, is a old-fashioned   Conservative in many ways. You get a whiff of that with his choice of car (Jag) and his move to raise the speed limit on motorways.

He is also a man who spent the years building up to 2010 going through the sums of different ministries and working out, as prospective Treasury Chief Secretary, how to cut the MoD budget.

Justine Greening, his replacement at transport, was a prominent supporter of Liam Fox’s campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2005.

So figures on the right of the party will have little to complain about in terms of the political balance of the cabinet. What’s interesting is that David Cameron felt he had to keep an eye on such balance.

He couldn’t catapault one of his ardent political groupies into a top job because, like Tony Blair with the Brown/Blair balance, Major with the europhile/sceptic balance and Margaret Thatcher with the dry/wet balance there were internal party dynamics to be taken into account.

She is, you will have noticed, a woman and David Cameron needs more of them in his top jobs.

She also served 18 months in George Osborne’s shadow treasury team before being pulled back to his governmental treasury team when the coalition was formed. When the memoirs are written for this government I predict the forensic powder will throw up Mr Osborne’s fingerprints everywhere!

Keep up-to-date with the goings on in Westminster via Gary’s Twitter feed: @GaryGibbonBlog

Tweets by @garygibbonc4