Liam Fox could have been designed by a committee of Tory modernisers. He was brought up in a council house, educated at a comprehensive and worked as a hospital doctor in the deprived east end of Glasgow. He has met Mother Teresa, still buys pop music and has long campaigned for the unfashionable cause of mental health provision. His wife is a lung-cancer specialist and charity worker. But he fails the soft-focus New Tory test on one crucial point: his politics are unashamedly, defiantly Thatcherite.
His face is thick with make-up when he turns up late for lunch at a bar overlooking Tower Bridge. He apologises: the television studio detained him and applied too much foundation. He orders a lamb burger and chips: modest fare by traditional Tory luncheon standards, but Fox is most at home in Butler’s Wharf, where he moved to on joining John Major’s government 12 years ago. He, alone, has remained a Tory frontbencher ever since and finds himself, aged 44, something of a party veteran.
Last summer Fox thought the time had finally come to lead the party — but he ended up serving David Cameron, his fifth boss. He jokes he had grown used to defeat. ‘David and I used to play tennis while we were at the Home Office and I’m afraid he used to thrash me. But he’s left-handed and in tennis that’s a powerful weapon.’ Fox has no similar excuses for the leadership race: he fought a good campaign but this did not translate into higher political clout. He was moved from foreign affairs to defence, and has kept unusually quiet ever since.
He says he has been swotting, not sulking. ‘I’m hugely busy. It’s a lot to learn and I intend to master that brief as best I can.’ He has been shuttling to Washington, using his American contacts to restore links with the Republicans.