Liam Fox is fond of reminding us that he didn’t come into politics to cut the armed forces. A wistful look falls across his face when he says it – an indication of frustration as much as sincerity, a sense deepened by his letter of concern about the government spending so much more on international development.
Opponents of Fox might characterise this as hypocrisy: he would reduce the size of the state without touching the armed forces, they say. His enemies in the Conservative party say that it’s typical of this “clever fool’s” intellectual indiscipline. Fox the military and fiscal hawk wants to “have it both ways”.
The Economist has an essential profile of the defence secretary, which argues that Fox’s position is a choice not a contradiction. Fox is a self-anointed standard bearer of the right and his politics are anything but incoherent. Cast you mind back several weeks to that thoughtful speech Fox gave on debt as a national security concern. Might the robustly Conservative Fox cut further and faster to reduce the burden of debt? One suspects that he almost certainly would.
His relationship with the Cameroons has always been uneasy. Aside from their politics, there is an obvious presentational tension between the comprehensively educated Scot and the array of English advantage at the top. Fox embodies the aspiring voter and I doubt he’s missed that coincidence.
The Economist says that Fox still has leadership ambitions. Certainly, he works the tea rooms and bars with affable cunning. He charms select committees, where, naturally, he tells the likes of Bernard Jenkin and James Arbuthnot that he’s doing his best to protect the forces – and the forces are grateful, apparently. He often uses more direct means to communicate with backbenchers and the wider party.