Having been through a few ministerial media frenzies, and knowing as I do how the press can twist and distort every little detail to feed the frenzy, even with Tories I like to let the benefit of the doubt linger for as long as I can.
It partly explains why you will have to look very hard through the archive on this blog to find too many ‘so-and-so must go’ headlines, and well done shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy for resisting the temptation to dive in too early with that one on Liam Fox.
But … I fear the defence secretary is a goner.
Particularly right now, with war in Afghanistan, and the military more offside than they usually are because of cuts and reorganisation they feel will put national security at risk, his job matters even more than in ‘normal times.’
Through misjudgements of his own, and the exploitation of his friendship by Mr Werrity, he has landed himself in a mess of his own making. Once a minister’s judgement within a department is under question, his authority ebbs. Once his activities become an embarrassment, political support ebbs too.
David Cameron has shown with his hanging on to Andy Coulson for so long that he is not keen to let people go. That is not a bad trait. Frenzies can pass, and provided there is nothing wrong at the core of the issue or personality involved, it is remarkable how many of these kind of situations it is possible to endure.
But this has a bad feel to it now, and though doubtless parts of the press are indeed twisting and distorting, peering through to what facts are clear does not make good reading for Dr Fox.
The mistakes do not just relate to his friend, his access to the MoD, his previously denied tagging along on visits (the exposing of the falsity of those denials would have been enough for full-blown media frenzy under Labour), the ‘charity’ run from his office, the business deals done in his wake.
They relate also to the way he has conducted his politics. I think I am quite skilled at working out where stories come from, and there have been too many which have emanated from Dr Fox, which either show him in what he believes to be a good light, or which paint him on what he believes to be the right side of an internal policy debate. As for posing with Maggie shortly before conference … not sure about that one, and how it will have gone down over the road in Number 10.
Cameron has asked to see a report on Fox by Monday morning. That guarantees another 24 hours of major hype around the embattled minister. He has that time to prepare solid answers to difficult questions. If he doesn’t have them, I fear someone else may already be being lined up to stand in for him at Defence Questions tomorrow.
# a footnote. One beneficiary of the Fox fuss is George Osborne. But for the focus on his colleague, his out-of-depthness and the failure of his Plan A would be getting even more attention. But once the Fox frenzy is over, his time will come again.