James Forsyth

Afghan manoeuvres

Afghan manoeuvres
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Ming Campbell’s comments today show that some Liberal Democrats do believe in Fox hunting. Responding to Fox’s speech in Washington yesterday and his remark that Britain would be among the last to leave Afghanistan, Campbell told the Daily Politics that the “intervention was unhelpful, indeed the government thought it was unhelpful.” “It would have been better if these remarks had not been made.”

Dr Fox’s allies are less than pleased by Ming’s grandstanding. They take the not unreasonable view that the Secretary of State for Defence has every right to express his views on a war that this country is fighting without being second guessed by a backbencher from the junior Coalition partner.

There is, though, a feeling in Westminster that Fox is vulnerable. Fox has already used up a rather large number of his nine lives — think of the 13th century comment on the eve of a visit to Afghanistan, saying that military pensions are ringfenced when they are not and publicly announcing the departure of the Chief of Defence Staff outside of the Downing Street grid.

But Fox has a significant source of protection. He’s one of the few representatives of the Tory right in the Coalition Cabinet. Only he, Duncan Smith and Owen Patterson are regarded as being on the right by the right of the Conservative parliamentary party. If Fox was to leave government, Cameron would find his right flank dangerously exposed.

As for Ming Campbell, I suspect that the Tory whips will have to send out a particularly forceful reminder to their MPs that they are not to sit in Ming’s preferred seat, the one on the left hand bench on the government side. If they don’t, they might find that one of Fox’s followers — a small but committed band — has taken revenge on the former Lib Dem leader.