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.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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