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Tuesday, October 11, 2011 

The Fox hunt: hubris then nemesis.

Has there ever been a political scandal as genuinely entertaining as the one that continues to engulf Dr Liam "actually a real doctor" Fox? Sure, in the past many enjoyed the schadenfreude derived from Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken getting their comeuppance, while in the sex stakes there's been John Prescott and Ron Davies amongst a whole range of others, but when it comes to general hilarity there doesn't seem to be anything to touch the adventures of Foxy and his best man, Adam Werritty. We've previously had the not very good not very satirical takes on the goings-on at the Spectator and riffs on Boris 'n' Dave, which one suspects didn't involve all that much embellishment; in this instance, there's no need for any. Wherever Fox goes, be it Dubai, Israel, America or darkest Peru, Werrity just happens to turn up! Fox could have wandered into a sauna in Sweden or a restaurant in Russia without letting anyone know, and there, in a coincidence to end all coincidences, would still be his old wingman just happening to be conducting a deal with some other chinless wonder who also just happened to be passing.

It's such a remarkable tale that you almost wonder if the civil servants working alongside the defence secretary didn't start believing that Werritty was an actual government employed adviser as well. Why else did no one apparently blow the whistle on this incredibly suspicious, potentially highly lucrative arrangement where by Werritty would follow around his friend like a loyal puppy dog, seemingly jetting around the world at enormous expense for no apparent reason? Didn't they suspect that something might have been going on when Werritty just popped up at a certain destination or was hitching a ride along with his best mate when he seemingly wasn't providing anything other than moral support? Indeed, it seems this entire happy affair wouldn't have been exposed if the Graun's Rupert Neate hadn't kept digging, having originally felt something wasn't right.

You then have to add in the fact that Fox, having originally denounced the various allegations as "baseless" and "wild", then chose his words so carefully in the Commons yesterday that it's a wonder the entire chamber, including the egregious Tories clapping like seals behind him didn't all die of suffocation from laughing so much. Alan Clark told a court that he had been "economical with the actualité"; Fox told the Commons, not quite as pithily, but equally revealingly, that of "the pecuniary interests of Mr Werritty in those conferences, I am absolutely confident that he was not dependent on any transactional behaviour to maintain his income". This was after he had admitted that his "distinctions had become blurred". For someone normally fairly blunt, as an individual imbued with the ethos of Thatcherism generally is, it's curious that he suddenly decides to come across like Bernard Cribbins in Fawlty Towers.

The only reason you can wager that Fox is still in his post is that for Cameron to defenestrate his right-wing defence secretary while Vince Cable and Chris Huhne have remained in their posts would be the equivalent of declaring war on the Tory headbangers, convinced that if only they could have their referendum on membership of the EU and cast off some of the liberal mumbo-jumbo inflicted on the government thanks to Clegg's crew that they would be assured of winning a majority come 2015. For while there's no ocular proof so far of obvious wrongdoing by either Fox or Werritty, their combined behaviour, failure to be immediately honest and 40 meetings, many of them by apparent chance, doesn't just fail the smell test, it breaks new frontiers in the political stench stakes. New Labour ministers lost their jobs for far less, Peter Mandelson and Charles Clarke to name just two.

The whole thing is ever so slightly reminiscent of David Cameron and his relationship with Andy Coulson. Despite being told by everyone and their mother that Coulson was a knave, he supposedly continued to believe his friend's protests of innocence. Far more realistic is that he imagined Coulson simply wouldn't get caught; after all, who could possibly be interested in how a Sunday tabloid filled its sheets with celebrity scandal every week. His biggest error was to think this could continue in government even when the Guardian was tenaciously continuing to follow the trail. Fox has fallen victim to the same belief: having given Werritty a job at his Atlantic Bridge charity, with his pal also making money from various consultancy work which just happened to shadow his jobs on the opposition benches, he thought that this could carry on in government without anyone getting wise to the arrangement.

It's not so much then that this is the arrogance, as Chris writes, that comes from the Tories conceiving themselves as the "natural party of government"; it's instead the old combination of hubris followed by nemesis which infects almost everyone at some point. Cameron managed to survive his brush with danger involving Coulson, although it could still damage him further. It's difficult to see any way Fox, by contrast, can keep his job, although an eventual return to the cabinet can hardly be ruled out should Cameron cut his losses now. The long lasting gift will instead be the image of this very odd couple, just happening to keep meeting in exotic places with Bunter-esque figures having walk-on parts. There might just be a one-off satirical comedy in it.

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