David Cameron will be toasting the departure of Liam Fox as Defence Secretary with his favourite Clamato juice and vodka cocktail this weekend
David Cameron will be toasting the departure of Liam Fox as Defence Secretary with his favourite Clamato juice and vodka cocktail this weekend. As a mere backbench MP, Dr Fox’s attacks on cuts in the military will carry less weight, should he dare to continue his criticism after a period of humbling silence. Mr Cameron need have no immediate worries over a challenge from the Right, which disaffected MPs including the failed leadership contender, David Davis, hoped the good Dr would lead.
For the past six months Mr Cameron was in a quandary over what to ‘do about Dr Death,’ as he prefers to call Fox. The former Defence Secretary was loathed by Cameroons, not only for his failure to toe the line with quiet obedience, but for his overweening vanity and ambivalent personal behaviour. When Fox was photographed with an electric blue satin shirt and Lady Thatcher at his 50th birthday party recently, his sartorial choice caused as much comment as the presence of the reclusive former premier.
One minister, at the Tory party conference, said to me: ’What was that satin shirt supposed to mean? I mean most men wouldn’t be caught dead in a satin shirt.’ This, together with Fox’s unusually close friendship with his self-styled adviser Adam Werrity, rekindled old rumours. Mr Fox’s marriage, it will be remembered, coincided happily with his attempt to become Tory leader.
Yet Cameron, much as he longed to be rid of Fox, decided to abide by the adage: ’Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ ‘If Dave sacked him for making a fuss over defence cuts, it might have led to a Geoffrey Howe moment,’ says a friend. ‘The last thing he wanted was a ‘wronged’ martyr from the Right attacking him in the House.’ A hostile speech by Fox would have been particularly damaging as he is known for his acid turn of phrase and commanding intellect.
But the qualities which made Dr Fox a formidable politician also contributed to his downfall. His common sense was often subsumed by his native arrogance, which upset many backbench MPs who would otherwise been loyal supporters. His ambition often appeared to be triumphalism. But as far as the Prime Minister is concerned, the consequence of these flaws is just what the Doctor ordered.