Split-stories have their own momentum. As soon as you know that a certain secretary of state is in the dog house with Downing Street, you start seeing things through that prism. So when I saw that the press release on the government’s new national security strategy contained quotes from the PM, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Development Secretary, but not the Defence Secretary, I immediately regarded it – and perhaps wrongly – as part of the Westminster Fox hunt.
Liam Fox’s appearance on the Politics Show on Sunday was ill-advised. By celebrating his defiance of the Treasury’s demands and trumpeting the PM’s support for him, he has broken one of the rules of the Cameron Tory party: never try to drive a wedge between ‘Dave and George.’ So determined are No.s 10 and 11 to avoid an equivalent of the Blair-Brown split that they regard any attempt to divide the two of them as an almost unforgiveable act.
The coalition is also keen to avoid the impression that Fox is being rewarded for the way he has handled this process. I have been told that, on Wednesday, it will become clear that Fox has not got the best deal of the non-ringfenced departments.