Fox's fate remains unclear

His confident performance couldn't disguise how embarrassing the revelations are.

Liam Fox cut a confident figure during his statement to the Commons. He quipped that he was pleased to see "so many new members interested in defence" and, in a calculated show of support, George Osborne, Michael Gove and Eric Pickles all joined him on the frontbench.

But none of this could disguise how embarrassing the facts are for the Defence Secretary. He was forced to admit that he met his self-styled "special adviser" Adam Werrity 40 times in 16 months (18 times on trips overseas and 22 times at the Ministry of Defence), many more than previously thought. For two months, the MoD insisted that Werrity was not taken on any official trips. Fox said that he merely met Werrity "in a social capacity" on "the margins" but he is open to the charge of misleading MPs.

While Fox was on his feet, the MoD sent out the findings of its interim report, which notes "a potential grey area, where personal or party political meetings or events take place during times when the Secretary of State is not accompanied by a Private Secretary; such events can potentially stray into government business." It recommends that in the future the Private Office should "clarify the attendance of people not part of the Ministerial party (other than the spouse/partner of the Minister) at informal or social gatherings."

In a strong and forensic response, Jim Murphy accused Fox of "driving a coach and horses" through the ministerial code. Fox's statement that he allowed "distinctions to be blurred" was a tacit admission that he had breached paragraph 7.1 of the code, which requires ministers to ensure that no conflict arises or is perceived to arise "between their public duties and their private interests". The only issue, Murphy said, was "on how many grounds and on how many occasions" the code was breached.

One key issue is whether Werrity benefited financially from his relationship with Fox. In response to questions on this subject, Fox said that Werritty was "not dependent on any transactional behaviour" at his MoD meetings "to maintain his income".

The Defence Secretary's future now depends entirely on how Cameron responds when he receives the MoD's full review on 21 October.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.