Fox by name, fox by nature. For, despite the mounting and overwhelming evidence of cronyism against Tory MP Liam Fox, the defence minister remains in his post – so far, t least.
Over a number of years, Fox has allowed his old friend, best man, flatmate and business associate, Adam Werritty, an office at taxpayers’ expense, access more recently to the Ministry of Defence and participation in meetings with businesspeople without the presence of civil servants. All the while, Werritty had no official position or security clearance.
The revelations have reached critical mass, sparking a crisis at the centre of David Cameron’s government. A spotlight is being shone on Fox’s dealings – and the trail of denials and retractions in their wake. As an anonymous ‘fellow minister’ said: “He has fingers in so many pies that you kind of think one of them will land him in trouble somewhere along the line.” (The Observer, 9 October)
There was, for example, a meeting in a five-star hotel in Dubai in June between private equity boss, Harvey Boulter, Werritty and the ‘flying Fox’, as he is known because of his frequent trips abroad. When challenged by the Guardian newspaper, Fox initially denied that the meeting had taken place. He then tried to make out that it had followed a chance encounter in a restaurant. Boulter disagreed: “The fact that a meeting was going to happen was prearranged in April. A meeting with the ministry of defence doesn’t happen by chance.” (The Observer, 9 October)
One of Fox’s long-standing contacts is Mahinda Rajapaksa, president of Sri Lanka. At the end of last year, Fox met Rajapaksa in the Dorchester hotel, London, just as urgent calls were being raised for an investigation into war crimes by Rajapaksa’s regime in its genocidal war against Tamil-speaking people. Footage from Sri Lankan TV shows Werritty present. Fox says that this was not an official meeting.
In July, Fox visited Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka on an official trip. Werritty was seen at an event in which they were all present. This time, the MoD maintains that Fox was there to give a lecture in public at which, coincidentally, Werritty was present. No doubt Fox will come up with reasons for the 22 times Werritty is known to have visited him at the MoD in the past 16 months, and the 18 times they met up on foreign trips.
In the House of Commons on 10 October, Fox muddied the waters further. When asked whether Werritty made money from any of these meetings and contacts, he merely said that Werritty was not financially dependent on the contact with him. Before Fox got his job in the government he had been shadow minister for health and then defence, while Werritty was a health industry ‘consultant’, then a defence lobbyist. It stinks, another example of this rotten political system, where those at the top put themselves first while the rest of us pick up the tab.
Cameron is desperately playing for time, although the editorial in the Financial Times (11 October) says that Fox’s position is untenable. Against the backdrop of severe economic crisis and the potential of massive strike action, Cameron’s government is riven with internal strife. It is giving the impression that it is drifting, impotent – while the politicians continue to be disgustingly self-serving.
By Manny Thain