Fox hits out at "personal vindictiveness" of media

Former Defence Secretary attacks "unacceptable" way that the media pursued his friends and family.

Liam Fox has given a statement to MPs in the aftermath of an official report which found he was guilty of breaching the ministerial code.

He stressed that Sir Gus O'Donnell's report had cleared him of the most serious charges, finding that he did not have any financial interest in his professional relationship with Adam Werritty, and that national security was not breached.

While Fox said he accepted responsibility for breaching the code, he hit out at the media. He said it was "unacceptable" that his relatives and friends were harassed, and complained that comments by Harvey Boulton, a venture capitalist Fox met in Dubai, were treated so uncritically. He also said that elements of the press had acted with "personal vindictiveness - even hatred".

Fox may have had a point when he said of his relatives that "we chose this life, they did not". But his rant risked sounding like he was blaming the media for his trials, rather than his own misdeeds. Were it not for the media, these actions would not have been discovered.

The speech seemed to designed suggest that Fox did a noble thing in standing down: "I accept that it is not only the substance but perception that matters and that is why I chose to resign". Regardless of whether national security was breached or not, the point is that Fox violated the rules, which are there for a reason. He -- and others -- must not lose sight of this.

Here's the statement in full:

Two weeks ago I visited Misrata in Libya and I met a man who showed my photographs of his dead children. A few days later I resigned from the cabinet. One was an unbearable tragedy. The other was a deep personal disappointment. I begin with that necessary sense of proportion.

As I said in the House last week, I accept that it was a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my personal loyalty to a friend. I accepted then it was a mistake to attend a meeting with a potential supplier without an official present, and with hindsight I should have been more willing to listen to the concerns of those around me.

I have attempted to be clear and transparent on all the issues raised. I would like to say again that I am very sorry to all my colleagues here in the House and to all those who feel let down by the decisions that I have made.

I have always believed in personal responsibility and I accept the cabinet secretary's conclusions. I am pleased at the explicit acknowledgement that I neither sought, expected, nor received any financial gain that was being widely and wrongly implied.

I also welcome the clarification of the fact that no national security issues were breached, no classified documents made available, and no classified matters briefed. These accusations were also widely made and deeply hurtful.

The ministerial code had been found to be breached and for this I am sorry. I accept that it is not only the substance but perception that matters and that is why I chose to resign. I accept the consequences for me without bitterness or rancour.

I do not blame anyone else and I believe you do not turn your back on your friends or family in times of trouble.

It is, however, unacceptable, that family and friends who have nothing to do with the central issues should be hounded and intimidated by elements of the media, including in this case elderly relatives and children.

It is difficult to operate in the modern environment, as we know, where every bit of information, however irrelevant or immaterial, is sensationalised and where opinions, or even accusations, are treated as fact. It was particularly concerning that Harvey Boulton, present at the Dubai meeting and subsequently the defendant in a blackmail case, was treated so unquestionably.

Last week's media frenzy was not unprecedented, and it happens where a necessary free press and politics collide. But I believe there was, from some quarters, a personal vindictiveness - even hatred - that should worry all of us.

But just as these events can bring out the worst in human nature, they also bring out the best. I have been touched and frankly overwhelmed by huge numbers of letters, emails and calls from friends and stranger alike, in particular from my constituents in North Somerset. It has meant more to me than anyone can know.

I would I would also like to thank my parliamentary colleagues, including those in the cabinet for their strong and generous support. It shows politicians at their best, and I apologise that it may take some time to get round to thanking all of you in person. I am also indebted to my loyal staff for their support, in particular my special advisers who find themselves out of work as a result of my decision.

I will miss the Ministry of Defence and the fantastic people who work there, military and civilian. It has been a life-changing experience and a great honour to work with some of the bravest and best people in our country. I am proud of what we have achieved there in 17 months, and I will help in any way my successor, who I know will do an absolutely excellent job.

I would like to thank my family and friends for their love and support. It is not easy to watch someone you care about being attacked in a very aggressive and prolonged way. We choose this life, they do not.

Of course, I would like above all to thank my wife Jesme, who has dealt with this whole business with her usual grace, dignity and unstinting support.

Finally, it is not always easy to be in public life, but it is an honour. I would like to thank all the party leaders, including the prime minister, who have enabled me to serve on the front bench for 17 consecutive years.

I will give this government my full support as they rescue our economy from the mess we inherited. Most of all, I would like to thank my constituents in North Somerset for giving me the honour to represent them in the House of Commons, and the opportunity to serve.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation