a case history in favour of radical reform
Liam Fox and his chum Adam Werritty made a lot of enemies over time. As well as investigating any corruption in their partnership, we need to find out who orchestrated their removal from the game. There is no shortage of candidates: but whatever happens, this is another saga screaming out for reform of the way Britain does things.
The BBC seems to have something of a scoop this morning:
‘Mr Fox resigned after a week of pressure over his working relationship with his friend, Adam Werritty. He has been replaced by Philip Hammond. ‘
This story gets odder and odder. Poor Fox resigns because his best man is a gay prop-forward with contacts in Israel and America, and then finds himself ordered to pal up with Phil Hammond instead.
In some ways, Liam might find his new friend quite useful. As a bloke interested in work and pensions as a subject, he should be able to advise the ex-Defence Secretary on any wrongful dismissal action. Hammond also quite fancies a job in the Treasury or at Health, so he could offer free consultancy on interesting new (and infinitely more healthy) ways to raise money for a partner. But somehow, I can’t see the two of them getting on.
Apart from being almost as right-wing as Mr Fox, Phil is a completely different prospect: very rich in his own right, he is a genuine entrepreneur hospital supplier and property developer, with three children plus a wife….nudge, nudge….Hammond is a man swinging through the Westminster Jungle just the one way. No funny friends. Best man unknown. It’s all been checked out with Cameron’s usual degree of thoroughness.
The big problem, however, is that while Liam is keen on foreign military affairs, as it were, Philip Hammond is to weapons what Kevan Jones is to veterans: he couldn’t give a sh*t about them.
I was listening to a self-appointed pundit on CNN last night, saying that Cameron had made ‘a professional politician’s decision’ in appointing Mr Hammond, and it struck me as one of those vapid things said in the media these days that simply drifts through the ether unchallenged. It’s almost as if we need a little person on screen all the time – like the sign-language folks – who watches what the pillocks say, and is then allowed to interrupt with suitably condemnatory comment. Jeff Randall would be very good in this role, or perhaps Peter Oborne after a few stimulants.
Anyway, ‘professional politician’ has always seemed to me a term like ‘professional foul’ in soccer: it’s basically something one resorts to if lacking the skills to do anything else under the circumstances. CNN guy was opining (because he didn’t know any better) that Cameron chose Hammond because it’ll keep Graham Brady and the ’22 Committe quiet for a bit. Fine and dandy, but forget the Party for one second in your life, Dave: what about the country?
I have no brief against Philip Hammond. In fact, the idea of a real businessman walking into the MoD and cutting a swathe through all the graft and incompetence therein appeals to me immensely. The Defence Ministry elite is a Commissariat short of a Stalinesque purge, an unreformed shower of pension-inflating, squaddy-depriving gargoyles somehow capable of buying much-needed helicopters, before then leaving them in hangars for a decade. But I don’t see the new Defence Secretary as a radical: rather, he is a sensible bloke who knows nothing about his subject, and will thus need to find his feet. Helping him do that will be the Mandarins, their warped version of the world at war being the first briefing the new Secretary will find on his desk come Monday morning.
There are three points I want to make on this, probably the last Saturday morning of the Indian Summer. The first involves Cameron as a Prime Minister with no focus, vision or intellect; the second, a Civil Service whose sole aim in life appears to be getting in the way while picking every Minister’s pocket; and the third is – returning to my theme of yesterday – how and why Liam Fox lost his job in the first place. This last is looking murkier with every phone-call.
In 2011, the British Armed Forces find themselves the unlucky inheritors of completely inadequate budgets, the rest having been urinated away elsewhere – on everything from illegal wars and Connecting for Health to bank bailouts and high-speed rail links. (This last, spookily, was a pet project of Philip Hammond, and the ‘brain’ child of the Prime Minister).
The situation for the defence of the Realm today is thus one requiring stark realism and highly disciplined focus. We’re never going to get either of those from the MoD, and Cameron himself has made things worse by taking quixotic, politically expedient decisions. We should never have intervened in Libya – the PM claims it as a success, because he is ignorant about Arabia; and we most certainly shouldn’t renew our nuclear deterrent….but that one’s in limbo, with pointless costs building up as it stays there.
Because Hammond is, I think, David Cameron’s man (he certainly did his bidding at Transport) he is highly unlikely to stand up to this Boys’ Book of Ripping War & Empire Gunboats policy being pursued by his shallow boss. What Britain needs to do will be sacrificed to what a privileged man with very poor strategic instincts thinks will make him popular – and reelected. Major Bob Stewart will remain sitting pointlessly on the back benches, a man whose encyclopaedia military experience and record of organisational success will count as nothing, because he is a blunt bloke unwilling to suffer fools.
Although much of the media set remains curiously content with the Prime Minister, this will not – I am absolutely certain – be history’s view. The United Kingdom is a whirlpool in which David Cameron is doing nothing beyond directing the traffic as it disappears down the vortex. I honestly believe he is a man incapable of radical solutions, happy to use his Coalition ‘allies’ as an excuse for messy solutions and directionless policies. He tinkers and fiddles, but to no real effect: and when more talented colleagues like Gove and Duncan-Smith take on the wreckers, he lacks enthusiasm in his support.
So as long as he’s in Number Ten, we can kiss any serious Civil Service reform goodbye. But when the dust finally settles on whatever pitched political battle follows Crash 2, it should be the right time – at last – to take a hard, short look at Whitehall – and start again. Britain remains a land of privileged oligarchies, and Radical Realists from the emerging Slog Party will perhaps, standing in the rubble, get more of a say at last in how to tackle this profound problem.
Oligarchies like the media ownership cabal, the existing Party/Electoral system, the TUC, banking, the legal profession, and above all Whitehall, will have to be opened up to policy examination, rigorous judgement including penalties, and the same life as the rest of us. The only way to demolish the Mandarins’ empire for good will be to take it away from taxpayer support, and mutualise it into a Society where Government ownership of the shares is zero. Its job – put simply – will be to balance budgets, and where possible make surpluses to be ploughed back into good infrastructural governance. This will not be an organisation in which any Sir Humphrey of whom I’m aware would find a job.
Where that leaves Westminster will be, at that point, an exceedingly mind-concentrating subject for our politicians. While it most certainly would not be my intention to undermine democracy, the Houses of Parliament would – after four decades of having spent enormous sums in the insouciant pursuit of Britain’s destruction – suddenly have to carve out and then justify a role for itself. The obvious role for MPs (and some form of controlled Executive) should be one of deciding strategy in those areas of policy still under their remit. (Most elements of social and economic policy should be massively devolved to local level anyway).
This would, of course, leave us with a system wherein a real Checks & Balances element was created for the first time: between elective politics on the one hand, and unelected but closely membership-monitored government on the other. It’s a risky strategy rife with potential dangers. But if put together properly, my aim would be for it to spend our money honesty and wisely, while defending our liberties vociferously. Frankly, Britain is badly run by unelected barons who make money’s power the central point of everything. Only a root-and-branch new start approach is going to end that mammonocracy….and abolish a Civil Service dedicated to policy obstruction, and organisational survival.
That turf-war obsessed organisation clearly played a role in stuffing Liam Fox. As I’ve said from the start, I think he is a mediocre man who displayed all the usual pompous hubris of those undeserving of power by abusing it. But my doubts about what first of all started, and then drove, the campaign for his dismissal remain. Until we get more answers – and there are more to come this weekend, be in no doubt – educated speculation remains.
We know that Kevan Jones ( a man whose own concept of familial loyalty should perhaps be given more media oxygen) briefed the Guardian, and I’m 90% sure he was in turn briefed by a senior MoD bod pissed off with the ever-present advice being given to Fox by the mercurial Adam Werritty. And rumours are emerging that Werritty himself had business rivals less than pleased about his favoured position.
We also know that the Rusbridger College of Correctness ran this story months ago, but nobody took any interest at all. We further know that Labour MP John Mann raised a Fox-Werritty WTF-style question in mid September. I learned last night that Mr Mann does have close friends in the FCO; maybe haters of Fox there did some leaking – given the lack of interest before then. I also hear tell that Liam’s fan club on the Isle of Sark is short of members. But finally, the UK’s harder Left have won a great victory here, in both writing nonsense about Mossad involvement and/or nasty ‘NATO’ conferences in the Middle East, and once again establishing in the public mind the idea of Israel as an enemy of Britain. Every word of that is bollocks; yet it accelerated Fox’s progress down a snake.
So far, I can find no evidence that anything more pernicious (ie, foreign) was involved in the leaks, briefings and dissembling of the last fortnight. But some of the people on the Left have links to peace-loving flotillas, about which I have posted at length in the past. Rather than write baseless rubbish about evil influences, The Slog will, for now, keep its powder dry.
But I say, as usual, stay tuned.