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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No, William Hague, there's nothing anti-democratic about opposing Brexit

The former Tory leader appears to be suffering from a bout of amnesia. 

William Hague just made an eyecatching claim in the House of Lords during the debate over Article 50. He attacked those Remainers still seeking to restore Britain’s European Union membership in general and Tony Blair in particular, saying that if he had called on voters to “rise up” against New Labour after he lost the election, Blair would have told him to listen to the voters.

To be fair to Hague, it has been sixteen years since he went down to crushing defeat to Blair, so he may have forgotten some of the details. Happily, the full text of his resignation speech the morning after is still online.

Here’s Hague, 2001:

"The people have spoken. And just as it is vital to encourage everyone to participate in our democracy, so it is important to understand and respect the result. The Labour party have won the election and I have already congratulated them on doing so. But they have done so without great public enthusiasm….It is therefore a vital task for the Conservative party in the coming parliament to hold the government to account for the promises they have made and the trust people have placed in it.”

And here’s Blair, 2017:

“I want to be explicit. Yes, the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think. But the people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so.”

And here’s Blair’s last line which has so offended William Hague:

“This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe – calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument; but without fear and with the conviction we act in the true interests of Britain.”

This is funny, because here’s William Hague’s last line in 2001:

"I wish I could have led you to victory but now we must all work for our victories in the future.”

 Here’s what the “you lost, get over it” crowd have to explain: what is the difference between these two speeches? Both acknowledge a defeat, acknowledge the mountain to climb for the defeated side, but resolve to work harder to secure a better result next time.

It’s particularly galling when you remember that taking Britain back in would not require a second referendum but a third: because the Brexiteers, far from losing in 1975 and getting over it, spent four decades gearing up to take Britain out of the European Union.

There’s a more valid criticism to be had of the value of a continuity Remain campaign which appears to hold many of the people who voted to Leave in distaste. Certainly, at present, the various pro-Remain forces look more like the unattractive fringe that lost in 1975 than the well-disciplined machine that won the replay in 2016. But the fact there was a replay in the first place shows that there’s nothing anti-democratic about continuing to hold on to your beliefs after a defeat. What is anti-democratic is trying to claim that the result of any electoral contest, however narrow or how large, means that everyone who disagreed with you has to shut up and pretend you were right all along. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.